Art To Wear - New Sunday Times

Sunday People - New Sunday Times
April 15, 2007
Art to Wear
By Rachael Philip

She comes from a family of jewelers but Wendy Lor does not want to stick to the traditional stuff. She tells RACHAEL PHILIP that she’s an artist.

Art To Wear

In 1957, Wendy Lor’s grandfather opened Woh Onn Goldsmith in PJ Old Town. In the 70s, when her father ran the shop, Woh Onn was the biggest goldsmith in the town. Her father also opened another smaller shop in Taman Sri Muda, Shah Alam, in the 90s.

Though she grew up around jewellery, Wendy had other plans. She had gone to Australia to study stage design but in her sophomore year at the Curtin University of Technology, she was re-introduced to jewellery, its metal , tools and craft. It was like the meeting of old good friends.

She didn’t finish her studies though. Woh Onn wasn’t doing well, especially during the financial crisis of the 80s. She had to come come. But she brought back an eye for beauty and the valuable craft of silversmithing.

“We were taught to appreciate art and to interpret the beauty of the things around us,” she says. “My dad, on the other hand, was very particular about how things were done and how the pieces looked. ‘What kind of jewellery are you making?’ He would frown when I showed him my pieces.”

Her jewellery was chunky, bold and daring. In short, they weren’t designs in a conventional goldsmith’s showcase. No fine finishing, no polished sheen.

“I was very into aesthetic designs. I was making art pieces, not just jewellery. The dents and flaws were intentional. I wanted that result but my dad said they looked like faults,” the 39-year-old says laughing.

Still, she was quick to realize it was not feasible to create artistic pieces. “it requires too many tools and it can get very expensive.”

So she created her own tools at her workshop at Sunway MAS Commercial Centre in PJU 1, Petaling Jaya.

Taking pride position on her work table is a cube of plasticine. Then a hair dryer sits comfortably on a makeshift stand and there’s a hand pasta machine like what the pan mee seller uses.

There are also pins and needles, teeny weeny tweezers, miniature carving sticks and sturdy pen knives. Even the humble toothpick has its uses.

Of course there are genuine silversmith tools inherited from her grandfather and other masters but many are her own inventions.

“I have modified and made the craft more accessible. This means that even you – with the right teaching and lots of practice – can make jewellery at home.”

The technique she uses most is called lost-wax casting. It has been used for thousands of years all over the world but with variations. Wax is an essential tool and Wendy found that the stuff dentists use to make teeth impressions worked just as well. The sheets of coloured wax become soft and malleable when heated (with a hair dryer) and is excellent for creating shapes and designs. Feed it into the pasta machine and you can get a thin sheet or strips in various sizes.

“This is the pump mellow torch, a present from my father who taught me to use it,” she says, looking fondly at the foot-operated archaic-looking soldering machine. The velocity of the flame is controlled by the foot pump whiel the sharpness or the broadness of the flame is manipulated by a know attached to the mouth of a long tube.

After Australia, she wanted to learn skills and techniques, so for six months, she worked as an apprentice in a jewellery factory.

From a cousin, she perfected the art of making the signet ring, or the standard men’s ring. Here she picked up valuable techniques such as hammering metal into shape, annealing metal, piercing, filing, etc.

She also perfected casting skills and brushed up on rubber mould-making at the Jewellery Industry Training Centre in Singapore. Because she was a good student, her sifu taught her gem-setting as well and made her stay on to supervise his factory.

But there were times when she wanted to give it all up. And she did. For four years, she sold industrial products.

“I am very good with my hands and even as a child I used to play with all sorts of tools, so selling industrial products was quite easy for me,” she says.

She made using the heavy machinery and various gadgets and tools look easy. “the engineers bought my products because they said that if a woman can use it, then they must buy it,” she says, laughing.

But deep in her heart she wanted to work with metal again, precious metal , drawing exquisite designs for them, working the kiln, torching silver, casting gold.

Three years ago, she set up Calistine Sdn Bhd, a jewellery manufacturing and retailing company. She also created WendyLorArtisans, a brand name that initially, sold unique art pieces to a select and limited client base.

Today, WLA has loftier dreams. She teaches the art of making jewellery by hand, a craft she fears will be lost in this era of mass production.

As she has refined and created new methods of craftsmanship, her students learn to make stuff that are refreshingly different, creative and challenging. It’s a six-month course after which her students are free to leave, no strings attached.

“I used to get asked why I am teaching these techniques which I created and perfected. What if they run off? That’s the idea!

“it’s not just about Wendy. It’s a legacy I want to share. If they want to go to other places, that’s fine. My mission in life is to teach and share.”

In eight years time, she hopes to open a school and do more for the industry.

Meanwhile, Wendy has been making a name for herself. Last month she unveiled her latest range of semi-precious and precious stones in a silver collection called Valley Spirit: Water Series.

Here, the motion of water is capture as it playfully twirls and turns or is allowed to stagnate and flow at will. Because they are handmade, no two pieces are alike.

“I used to be very, very sad when I sold an item. There was the fear that I’d not come up with another piece as nice as that. But now I understand that I have so much inside to give,” she says.

“Recently my dad looked at my designs. They are still chunky, weird and unusual. But this time he said that they were very special.”

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