Day 9: Siem Reap to Seattle


Allison Fitz

Artisans Angkor

by Allison Fitz

After walking down the wrong driveway for a few minutes in the blistering sun, we knew we had finally arrived at Artisans Angkor when we saw a giant green tour bus parked outside. And yet, as many of our experiences have turned out, this was still a place for locals.

Founded in 1992, Artisans Angkor works to preserve the traditional Khmer artistic trades and craftsmanship while simultaneously providing jobs to rural Cambodians. The foundation trains Cambodians mostly to sculpt, paint and sew. We toured the Siem Reap showroom and workshop, but Artisans Angkor extends across Cambodia, including to farming and fielding jobs. Specific projects of Artisans Angkor include the restoration of ancient temples, including Ta Prohm and Angkor Wat, which Inkwell explored, and the installation of statues in the Siem Reap and Phnom Penh airports.

Besides purchasing the crafts, tourists can watch the artisans create in various workshops. In my forty-five minutes of observation, I saw artisans chipping away at slabs of sandstone and soapstone with hammers, scraping with fine point tools, sanding sculptures with water, coating pieces with silver, lacquering pieces of wood and weaving silk thread. At each station, I stood mesmerized by the intricacies of each artisan’s craft. Soapstone slabs the size of my hand could be transformed into a sitting worshipper of Buddha. Thousands of individual strands of dyed silk joined together to create a scarf of a beautiful and unified pattern and texture.

The items in the showroom are sold relatively expensively for Southeast Asia, but Artisans Angkor prides itself on providing high wages to its employees. Our classmate and local resident Chanthen Hong confirmed the organization’s good standing and work in the community. I also spoke with a man who had been sculpting for Artisans Angkor for twenty years, and the job clearly provided him stability.

Watching the details unfold of each artisan’s piece, thread by thread and motion by motion, I reflected on how removed I am from my day to day clothing and food. It is so easy to click a button online and have a new pair of jeans arrive at my doorstep or to drive two minutes to pick up a loaf of bread, and this experience challenged me to think a little longer about where the items in my life come from.