Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Smiths' skills shine in silver and copper

Smiths' skills shine in silver and copper

Smiths' skills shine in silver and copper


Cambodian silver and copper smiths produce some of the finest work in Southeast Asia.

Ornate filigree carvings can be found throughout shops and markets in Cambodia.

Samrith Soy adds a finishing touch to a sculpture in Kampong Luong.

Much of the production comes from cottage industries at Kampong Luong, 30 km northeast

of Phnom Penh. Professional copper workers like Samrith Soy, 50, work with copper

from scrap metal bought at 13,000 riel a kilogram.

The copper is then melted down and worked into sheets, cut, beaten, carved and moulded

into animal figures. After the models are finished they are painted and sold in Phnom

Penh.

The metal used is thin, and the hollow models can be used for keeping small items.

Samrith has been doing this since he was 13, and with his family collects 30,000

riel per kilogram of the intricately carved figures. In one month he can process

and sculpt 20 to 25 kilograms of metal.

Dry season rice farming and wet season sculpting bring in Samrith and his family

just enough to survive.

Silversmiths form the majority of Kampong Luong's cottage industries. Traditionally

the silver sculptures were for royalty and presented at weddings. The metal is imported

from China, Malaysia and Singapore and made into sheets and moulded before carving.

A 32-year-old woman, Hann Sinath, carves with the speed and skill gained over 15

years. Some of her work is sold in Kampong Luong, but most winds up in the silver

shops of Phnom Penh. Like Samrith Soy, she can just make enough money to get by,

none to save.

Seng Narom's silver shop. Selling 90 to 100 percent silver carvings.

Opposite the house where Hann Sinath carves is the Cambodian Crafts Center (CCC)

shop. In the window are carved animals, bowls, and cups, all in almost pure silver.

The CCC was founded in August 1997 with the assistance of Handwerkskammer Koblenz,

the German Chamber of Trade. Working with ceramic, silk, and silver crafts, the CCC

provides training and equipment, quality control and design innovation.

Seung Kimyonn, executive director of the CCC, teaches at the University of Fine Arts.

Kimyonn said the CCC is primarily a business organization which aims to support Khmer

enterprise. Experts from overseas provide one-month training courses for craft workers.

The CCC organizes 25 to 30 kg of silver craft for export every month, mainly to Japan,

Thailand, Germany and Singapore. Kimyonn expects that much of the silver exported

to Thailand finds its way further abroad into Europe and America. He said the quality

of the items produced since 1997 had increased greatly.

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