Asia

Creativity for a Cause: A Pottery Class at the Khmer Ceramics Centre

© Emily Lush 2015

A pottery class in Siem Reap is a great alternative activity if you need a break from temple hopping. Here’s what to expect when you visit the Khmer Ceramics Centre, a fantastic Cambodian social enterprise.

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I’m always looking for opportunities to give back while I’m travelling.

It’s not exactly hard to do in Cambodia – a country with one of the highest NGO-to-citizen rates in the world, where social enterprises lie (literally) around every other corner.

To be honest, we didn’t know the Khmer Ceramics Centre in Siem Reap was a not-profit when we booked in for an afternoon pottery class – we just felt like doing something different and hands-on.

Along with visiting the Angkor Silk Workshop, it turned out to be one of our favourite activities in Siem Reap.

Back behind the wheel

I have joyful memories of sitting behind a family friend’s pottery wheel when I was seven or eight years old. I’ve always been drawn to creative processes, and shaping child-sized bowls out of craft-shop clay was one of my first encounters with the handmade.

Seems I’d forgotten just how difficult wheel throwing actually is.

Clay looks so soft and yielding; what starts off as an impenetrable raw material becomes more fragile with each spin of the wheel before its final transformation back into solid form. Anything less than a firm touch fails to leave a mark. At the same time, you must be cautious of the potentially ruinous effects of a misplaced forefinger.

Working the manual wheel was a real challenge for me – I can’t fathom the level of skill needed to craft the mammoth ceramic water urns that are made in Kampong Chhnang and used throughout rural Cambodia.

Close up of a hand on a clay pot that's on the spinning wheel.

About the Angkor Ceramics Centre

The Ceramics Centre focuses on Angkorian pottery techniques (high-temperature ceramics and engraved porcelain), which are decorative rather than purely utilitarian.

Expatriate Serge Rega founded the Centre after artisan pottery, like many other fine arts, all but disappeared under the Khmer Rouge. Artisans create homewares for the Centre’s shop in downtown Siem Reap using a blend of red, yellow and white clays, which are all found naturally in Cambodia.

Whereas pottery is a inter-generational vocation in Kampong Chhnang, teachers start out at the Khmer Ceramics Centre as lay students themselves.

Part of the Centre’s vision is to provide employment opportunities for disabled or orphaned Cambodians, and all eight staff who currently teach classes are deaf.

A young man sits at a workbench, engraving a soft clay pot.

My instructor, a young woman from Battambang, had only been at the Centre for a few months, but she already knew her way around the tools like it was second nature. Ross’ teacher was lauded as the best artist.

He showed us how engraving is done, drawing lotuses into the freshly molded clay by flicking a skewer in long, fluid sweeps; hands twirling like an Apsara dancer.

Close up of an artisan engraving a soft clay pot with a toothpick.
Decorated clay pots ready for firing.
Gold and blue apsara figurines made of clay.

Visiting the Ceramics Centre

A two-hour pottery class at the Khmer Ceramics Centre costs 25 USD, including a tour of the studio, the chance to throw and engrave five clay pieces, and one fired vessel to take home.

Make an instant online booking through Get Your Guide.

Where to stay in Siem Reap

If you’re planning a visit to Angkor, make sure you check out my round-up of the best Siem Reap accommodation to suit every type of traveller and budget.


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