78 year old, Gan Theam Hock has been in the business of wood carving for at least 60 years. We have used his skills in the restoration of this house and 7 Terraces over the last decade and he is still productive today.
The gilded screens in the two houses you are in were carved by him as well as numerous major repairs on furniture that had missing parts. Wood carving is only one part in the creation of a set of screens. We need the skills of the gilder, the carpenter who puts it together and these days the specialist lattice maker as well.
We are very lucky to see him at work today producing a giant pair of “Kilin” for my collection. He has a large collection of drawings for carving design for traditional doors like the ones you walked through on your way in.
This craft and skill sadly is already beyond the reach of the average person. The economic substitutes like laser cutting and the more extensive use of hand held machines in carving is reducing the demand for this skill. It’s similar malaise we see in the art of jewellery making and Kebaya Sulam.
In the world of gastronomy, the opposite trend can be seen with artisan chefs creating and improvising on the traditional nyonya cuisine and kuih in restaurants like Candlenut in Singapore, Kebaya in George Town and to a certain extent Bengawan Solo and now Li Er In Penang. It is interesting to note that as modern living becomes more compact, fast and urban, the needs have changed. A more affordable instant gratification of our Nyonya heritage is what is the new desire of the masses, hence traditions are forgotten, given short cuts or substituted by mass and quick production methods with the exception when it comes to our taste buds and stomach.
THE WOOD CARVING MASTER