Origins

The Chantiers-Écoles de formation professionnelle, a professional training school, was founded to help young Cambodians rediscover traditional handicrafts and give them the opportunity to take part in the rebuilding process their country had undertaken.

The CEFP is a public institution which was established in response to an urgent need to train disadvantaged young people with little formal education, living for the most part in rural areas, by offering them a job entry program.

Artisans d'Angkor was established as a natural offshoot of the Chantiers-Écoles project as a school-to-work transition for the young craftsmen that had been trained. The skilled artisans could thus be organized into a self-sustaining handicraft network. 
Artisans d'Angkor is a Cambodian company of arts and crafts devoted to the revival and preservation of Cambodian traditional savoir-faire.



It works closely with craftsmen to create, produce and market a collection of authentic, upscale products. It conducts research efforts to select local materials, colors and textures that reflect Cambodian cultural esthetics. Its main focus is ornamental sculpture, lacquer ware, silk weaving and silk painting.

Artisans d'Angkor promotes the fair, sustainable development of Cambodian arts and crafts with benefits to rural communities. It provides training to young Cambodians, enabling them to rediscover lost ancient talents and make a living from their skills while working right in their home villages. It has created over 1,000 jobs, of which 624 involve craftsmen. Twelve workshops are currently operating in Siem Reap province. Since its establishment, Artisans d'Angkor has pioneered a new social policy in Cambodia with guaranteed levels of pay along with social and medical benefits. The craftsmen have formed an association known as Artisanat Khmer, which holds a 20-percent share in the company.

Artisans d'Angkor also supports local handicraft producers selected for the quality of their work by helping them to market their products.



PROJECTS

Silk Weaving

Silk weaving is a tradition that seems to have been introduced to Cambodia back in the 13th century thanks to the Silk Road that once wandered through Southeast Asia. This craft is practiced by women in rural villages using traditional looms set up below their stilted houses during the dry season when the women are not out working in the fields.

The weavers start by degumming the silk so that the thread can be unwound from the silk cocoons. After that, the silk is dyed. The dyeing process is done using natural pigments.


One of the most sophisticated types of silk cloth is hôl, obtained using the ikat technique. This method requires the meticulous preparation of the pattern by dyeing the weft thread, (the thread placed in the width of the fabric). The method used is a successive tying-in and dying process with different colors in clay pots, which will then yield geometric or floral motifs. The silk threads are then hand-woven according to a complex intertwining of the warp thread (the thread that runs lengthwise through the fabric) and the weft thread, resulting in a fabric with beautiful shades and shimmering nuances. Cambodian silk comes in a rich variety of textures, motifs and complexions: phamung (silk fabric in plain color), chorebap (silk brocade), hôl (silk with colorful patterns) and hôl lboeuk (hôl combined with a brocade fabric).

Nowadays, silk weaving is done in rural villages where this age-old tradition still remains, thanks to the women who pass this savoir-faire on to the upcoming generation.

Each creation is therefore a unique piece, a testimony to the preservation of the history of Cambodia and its silk tradition.

Lacquering and gilding

Lacquer work is a tradition in Asia that had been lost in Cambodia. In its workshop in Siem Reap as well as those in rural villages, Artisans d'Angkor is rekindling this ancient art. For 1,000 years in Cambodia, lacquer had been used to protect wood. The use of this material was later extended to the decoration of different surfaces such as the ornamenting of temple walls, statues and other decorative items. Cambodian lacquer is different from other lacquer used in Asia because of its mate or satiny appearance, clean lines and sober motifs.

Techniques of application differ according to the medium used, stone, or wood:

The carved wood, mostly common rubber tree lumber has to be prepared by putting on the base coat, a natural surface filler that smoothes off the harshness of the wood and gives the surface a velvety look and touch. The artisan then applies colors made from natural pigments to the statue and adorns the piece with copper-leaf gilding. The items are finally waxed to give them the appearance of the ancient statues. The carved stone, usually sandstone, is coated with numerous layers of lacquer in order to smooth out the surface in preparation for the next stage of color application. The piece is then ornamented with copper-leaf gilding. Once the patina is applied, the lacquer is polished, the artisan performing this operation with the palm of the hand. Here again, each artisan has his own way of working, some going about their carving with gentle movements while others are more firm. The result is that each piece is truly unique. It is produced, not by a molding, but by the patience of an artisan who becomes, through long hours of patient work, a real artist. In a sense, each piece bears the mark of the artisan who produced it.

Wood and stone carving

The art of stone carving goes back to the glorious epoch of the Khmer empire and its monumental constructions that gave rise to the Angkor temples. Like the work of craftsmen from previous centuries, stone carving is done on sandstone. Artisans d'Angkor mainly uses sandstone from Siem Reap province.

As for wood sculpture, the types of trees are selected based on ancient woodwork found in buildings, small furniture items and pagoda ornamentation. Artisans d'Angkor uses precious timber for some items in its collection but the majority of the wood used is from the rubber tree, notably for lacquered and gilded items.



The young craftsmen have inherited patience and meticulousness from their predecessors in the trade. They learn to capture the movements used in olden times and master the traditional tools that they make themselves and adapt to their personal lines of work.

The production process closely adheres to traditional methods. The artisans start by rough-hewing the pre-cut blocks of stone or wood to come up as closely as possible with the shape of the final statue or carving. The artisan next begins the actual work of sculpturing or ornamentation, using ancestral techniques, right up to finishing the statue. This final stage requires the use of abrasive materials, sandpaper and water to remove any remaining tool marks and finely smooth off the sculpture.

Each artisan has his own way of working, some going about their carving with gentle movements while others are more firm. The result is that each piece is truly unique. It is produced, not by a molding, but by the patience of an artisan who becomes, through long hours of patient work, a real artist. In a sense, each piece bears the mark of the artisan who produced it.

Silk Painting

Man has always used representations of animal or human forms to depict scenes and rites of daily life. In Cambodia, many frescoes were painted on the walls of pagodas during the 16th and 17th centuries. These frescoes narrate not only scenes of religious life and routine daily life but also the epic Ramayana. Our silk paintings are based on such motifs, highlighting both the poetic meaning and ornamental sense they convey.

After setting the silk medium on a frame of predetermined size, the artisan transfers the motifs drawn on a prototype design. For the actual painting, the artisan prepares each color using natural pigments. Colors are then applied to the motifs and the finishing is done with a paintbrush and India ink. Finally, a patina obtained from natural wax is applied over the colors so as to obtain the appearance of the ancient murals. Certain ornamentations are heightened by a gilding operation done using brass foil.

In Cambodia, painting is never an end in itself but a medium of communication in a society with its peculiar customs and beliefs. Our silk paintings are made by young deaf women from the NGO Krousar Thmey, a Cambodian Foundation assisting deprived children.



Other Special Skills

Artisans d'Angkor actively promotes the diversity and cultural richness of the Khmer handicraft tradition. This has led to its involvement in support of various local producers dedicated to Cambodian crafts by helping them to market their products and, as a result, special attention is given to other arts and crafts, including:

Bronze ware: Cambodian bronze artwork dates back to ancient times. Inspired by Cambodian traditional silver boxes, the Artisans d'Angkor collection includes a wide range of bronze animal-shaped boxes, including elephant, quail and fish designs.

Jewelry: Cambodia is famous for its silver jewelry and decorative silver bowls and boxes, which are on sale throughout the country. Old style hand-made Cambodian silver jewelry is a popular item worn by modern ladies and gentlemen. It takes many forms such as bracelets, rings, earrings and necklaces.

Golden silk weaving: Characterized by the beautiful golden color of the cocoons, golden silk is woven using traditional techniques that have been enthusiastically revived by women weavers in rural silk villages.

The full collection is not displayed on the Artisans d'Angkor website. If you would like more information on the collection, contact Artisans at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



Art from the Angkor era

The art of Khmer sculpture and lacquer work originates from the glorious Angkor era, which manifested itself in a great variety of models. Artisans d'Angkor has chosen to work on the most representative models of Angkor art using different materials in a rich variety of textures and colors. Proportions, design, texture and motifs are all followed meticulously in order to express the authenticity, sensitivity and vigor of the original models while expressing the ability and talent of today's young Khmer craftsmen.

Artisans d'Angkor's collection is deeply imbued with Khmer esthetics and culture. It is the result of much research and experimentation and invites people to discover Cambodia's identity through local handicrafts. To come up with a consistent and coherent collection, the design team worked with the philosophical, symbolic and conceptual foundations of traditional Cambodian culture, in its ancient as well as contemporary manifestations.

So as not to be limited to an intuitive association of ideas, forms and colors, the design team also works along a theme, which simply may be highlighted through a particular color or graphic line that runs through the components of the various product lines.



Time line

1992: The establishment of the Chantiers-Écoles de Formation Professionnelle (CEFP): Training of unschooled rural youth between 18 and 25 years of age in skills that would allow them to make a living from handicraft production.

1998-2001: The establishment of Artisans d'Angkor with financial support from the European Union under the REPLIC Program (Programme Rural d'Éducation Professionnelle et Logique d'Insertion au Cambodge):

- Help young Cambodian artisans to find work in their home villages and provide them with a trade and role in society. In this way, Artisans d'Angkor offers professional, economic and social integration.
- Ensure the survival of cultural savoir-faire and promote Khmer cultural identity. In 2006, nearly 75 apprentices were attending the Chantiers-Écoles program in stone sculpture, wood carving and silk painting. They will join Artisans d'Angkor at the completion of their training.

2003: Artisans d'Angkor became a limited liability company with a minor public share. It is now completely self-financing and independent and it now employs more than 1,000 people. It stands as model of sustainability and fairness for Khmer arts and crafts.

Silk Technical Advice

•    Hand wash silk in lukewarm water with a mild soap
•    Let it soak for a while and stir it up delicately from time to time
•    Rinse it well but avoid pressing or wringing the silk
•    Add several drops of vinegar in the rinse water and rinse it again
•    For a natural dry, lightly squeeze the silk item then roll it in a non-coloured towel and lay it flat to dry. Never dry your silk under direct sunlight because this can damage the fibre and fade the colour
•    Press your silk inside out with a warm iron     

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