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Siem Reap shop shapes lamps from copper

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Khmer women and girls in costume at Angkor Wat holding the lamps. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Siem Reap shop shapes lamps from copper

Cambodia's national flower – the rumduol – and stars are considered to be lucky objects to be displayed on the occasion of Khmer New Year and are common decorative motifs.

Soeun Sokhom, 48, the wife of the owner of Sour Sdey Chamlak Dek Meas Rachana handicraft in Siem Reap town and province, which sculpts items for display.

Products range from rumduol flower lamps, lanterns, colourful lamps and lucky star wall lamps. They make objects shaped like moon lanterns, queen lanterns, princess lanterns and leaf shaped lanterns in the Khmer style found on temples.

“The best-selling display objects in 2023 are the rumduol flower lamp and the lucky star lamp. This lucky flower is from 60cm up to 1 metre tall and is carved with up to 20 designs, including the surrounding pattern, and the centre part can also be engraved with the name of the villa or shop or the words serey sour sdey or happiness,” she said.

She added that the largest size rumduol flower lamp at 90cm costs $450, while the size 30 cm costs $180 and the smallest costs $130.

Sokhom said that the lucky star lamp size 60cm costs $700 and is made of dera iron, while the copper lamp of the same size costs $1,400 as copper is sold by the kilogram and uses an 8-centimeter-thick layer for carving, and it takes longer than dera iron.

The shop uses thick dera iron and paints it colours that suit the customers’ preferences, such as silver, platinum and gold, while copper sculptures are the customer’s favourite if they wish to keep it shiny as bronze.

“In Cambodia, no one produce lamps made of dera iron and copper by carving them, they only make them with moulding, which is not hand-carved,” Sokhom told The Post.

As a supporter of Khmer engraving, Meas Chumnit, a high school teacher in Sihanoukville and the owner of a massage parlor, ordered Sokhom’s hand-crafted Khmer engravings to be displayed in his business.

“Her lamps are made by hand and carved in Khmer patterns. I’ve bought a lot from her. Wall lamps, ceiling lamps, rumduol fower lantern lamps and so on.

With Khmer-style design’s popularity, Chumnit is not afraid to spend a lot of money on them and he’s very patient in waiting for the lamps because it can take a long time.

Sour Sdey Chamlak Dek Meas Rachana handicraft has more than 13 artisans it employs. In addition to lamps of all types, the handicraft also produces railings.

Although the design of the lamp seems mostly the same, the owner claims that from year to year the design is different in both engraving and appearance.

“Although the type of lamp is the same, but the size and the year are different, so the product is also different, the series keep upgrading, for example the 2023 model is different from previous years but retains the same Khmer style,” Sokhom said.

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Khmer copper rumduol flower lamp made in Siem Reap. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Touch Vannick, 68, is a construction contractor and a wooden statue sculptor turned into an iron and copper sculptor, said the designs that he uses to engrave on the lamps include Kbach Pnhi Tes, Kbach Banteay Srei, Kbach Pnhi Angkor and Kbach Pnhi Plerng.

He said that before engrave, the copper has to be well-heated and washed with soap and lime and then dried. The design of the engraving is made according to the size and style that the customer orders.

“Some jobs, such as wall lamps that use a single sheet of copper, it takes one day, if there is a planner, a sculptor and a designer. But it’s not steady, depending on the type of lamp, some types of lamps takes 7 days to one month,” Vannick told The Post

This experienced sculptor said that some customers order lamps, and some even order ceremonial umbrellas because in every Cambodian house there are always statues, and even Christians order ceremonial umbrellas for Jesus.

Vannick claims that this beautifully engraved Kbach does not cut customer’s hands when touch it, as this craft produces engraving knives with high quality that are very sharp.

Vannick started to carve copper and dera iron in 2010, at the behest of an official who wanted to make an umbrella lamp patterned with displayed ornaments for Siem Reap Airport. Vannick, a wood sculptor, decided to try it out.

He agreed to take on the job of engraving a ceremonial umbrella with the confidence that he would be able to accomplish this new task. The former construction contractor also began to turn his career away from the construction sector due to the problem of customers owing a lot of money.

Since 2010, lamps and hand fans that cost only $20 have risen to $180 to $200, with the development of more beautiful engraving.

However, Vannick said that at first his career as a lamp engraver didn’t go smoothly because he received only one or two orders a year.

Then in 2012 he received a large order from the prime minister’s office for 18 hand fans and 18 ceremonial umbrellas to be placed for Preah Ang Thom in Stung Trang district, with a deadline of 2.5 months to finish them.

“Four of us worked hard day and night for two and a half months to finish the job for them. We were really happy with the result,” he said.


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