Khmer Artisan Project

Side Menu


Picture Gallery

Khmer Artisan Project

History of Khmer Artisan Project

Over the last ten years, Khmer Artisan Project’s Chief Executive Officer and artisan-potter, Bruce Fairman, has extensively traveled the back roads of Southeast Asia.  Bruce has visited many rural pottery villages on his travels throughout Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, and made pottery with the village’s potters.  One of these treks led him to a village market in rural Cambodia where he saw beautiful, graceful Cambodian handmade pottery.  Intrigued, Bruce followed the dirt road down to Odonrossey village where the pottery was made.

Odonrossey village is a rural pottery village in the Tonle Sap region, about five kilometers outside of the town of Kampong Chhnang.  The village has no electrical power and almost no infrastructure.  The artisan-potters of Odonrossey village eke out meager livelihoods making pottery in virtually the same way as in ancient times when Angkor Wat was built in 1000 AD.  They live in extreme poverty, in small shacks on stilts with thatched siding and corrugated tin roofs, and their chief source of food is from the rice fields surrounding the village, and the frogs and small fish caught in local streams. 

After visiting Odonrossey village several times and living among its people, Bruce found an opportunity to use his background in ceramic arts and business to improve the quality of life for present and future generations of rural artisan-potters, and Khmer Artisan Project was borne.  Khmer Artisan Project was formed in California in 2006, to help artisan-potters develop sustainable livelihoods in rural communities in Cambodia. 

Challenges Facing Rural Potters in Cambodia

Cambodia is a country of about 70,000 square miles, located between Vietnam and Thailand.   The country is divided into 24 provinces, with Phnom Penh as its capital.  It has a population of approximately 13.3 million people (2003 estimate) and approximately 78% of the population lives in rural areas.  Cambodia is a poor and impoverished country and adult literacy rates are low.

Pottery making is one of the world’s most ancient arts and ancient Cambodia culture developed highly artistic pottery traditions.  However, many Cambodian, or Khmer, potters in rural villages today live in or close to poverty, and without the means to improve their economic circumstances or to attain economic self-sufficiency.  As an example, Kampong Chhnang Province is considered to be the ancestral home of Cambodia’s pottery tradition.  While it today remains the country’s major center for pottery making, the province’s potters typically eke out very meager incomes, often no more than USD$300 a year.  It is almost impossible for them under existing circumstances to make more than a hand-to-mouth living from their work because the work quality is not high and therefore the pottery is not currently marketable to broader and more affluent markets.  Moreover, the methods they use to make pottery are very laborious, inefficient and physically demanding.  Rural potters continue to make pottery using these crude methods not out of a sense of tradition, but because they do not know any other way.

Khmer Artisan Project's Ceramic Development and Training Program

Through our ceramic development and training program in Cambodia, Khmer Artisan Project helps rural potters improve their economic circumstances by helping them design and produce high-quality marketable pottery, by improving the quality of production and processes through modern technology, and by teaching them how to independently market their work in larger and more affluent markets.  A global marketplace exists for handmade goods and there is a growing market of consumers who want to make ethical and socially conscious decisions when they shop.  These skills help provide rural potters with opportunities to develop sustainable incomes.  As a result, they are able to develop successful family businesses in their communities producing and independently marketing their work, and in doing so, establish viable and perpetual businesses that can be passed down to the community’s children, and thereby help preserve Cambodia’s heritage in pottery arts.