From The Cambodia Daily, December 12, 2000

For two Generations,
Pottery is a Point of National Pride

By Jody McPhillips and Ana Nov

Dreams come in many forms, though maybe not that many are made of brick. But in a cool glade behind Roat Sophoan's house in this small town east of the Mekong River, a brick kiln fills one corner of a spacious work area. Scores of clay forms are lined up everywhere: cups, bowls, plates, vases, urns and candleholders. In hours, the kiln will toast them to perfection.

Roat Sophoan is keeping alive the unique ceramics style begun by his late uncle, Chhun Pok.
Photo: Heng Simith

Roat Sophoan is the nephew of the late Chhun Pok, Cambodia's top expert in ceramics, who died in 1998 at the age of 43. Chhun Pok, for years a professor of ceramics at the Royal University of Fine Arts, died before he could finish building the kiln in the glade. When his uncle died, Roat Sophoan, 31, left his own university studies as a sculptor to take up Chhun Pok's unfinished work. With the help of Chhun Pok's three grown sons, he completed the kiln and began to work as a potter.

The results are featured in an exhibition poignantly named "Ceramics from Lor Pok [Pok's Kiln]," which will go on display at the Reyum Gallery, No 47 St 178, with an opening reception Thursday at 5 PM. Roat Sophoan says he has come to love pottery even more than sculpting. He hopes one day to make Lor Pok a profitable enterprise training villagers to recreate ancient Khmer designs and firing them at high heat to produce the distinctive green-brown glazes rarely seen today.

"I want to use only Cambodian materials, natural clays and glazes," he said. The difficulty will be selling enough of the high-quality work to support both his and his late uncle's families, he said.

Chhun Pok's best-known work is a lotus light, a graceful terra-cotta candle holder shaped like a lotus bud formed in two pieces. Candlelight shines through the filigree to form dancing patterns on walls and ceilings. But the exhibition will include much more, Roat Sophoan promised.