Continuing Education

Carving out a stylish niche

中文摘要 / Summary in Chinese

What would make a better wedding present than something handcrafted in leather? That was the thought in Ms. Phoebe Cheong’s mind, and she was eager to try making such a gift herself. But Ms. Cheong knew nowhere in Macao where she might learn the craft of leatherworking. She was lucky enough to meet craftswoman Ms. Sin Mei I, who taught her some leatherworking techniques.

“After that my interest in leather carving grew steadily,” Ms. Cheong says. “When I found out that Mei would be teaching a course in IFT, I joined it immediately.”

The course is called “Design and Production of Leather Carving Crafts” and is taught by Ms. Sin and her sister, Ms. Debbie Sin Mei Cheong. The sisters honed their leatherworking skills in Hong Kong, Chinese Taiwan and taking instruction from a Japanese master craftsman. They say their course is the first of its type in Macao.

“There was basically no awareness of leather carving in Macao before the IFT course, as there was nowhere to learn and no channels for obtaining relevant information,” Ms. Debbie Sin says. “Our course lets students learn the basics about leather carving, and about the tools and production skills involved.”

The IFT course also teaches students how to make accessories with carved leatherwork. “We don’t want to make carved leatherwork something beyond the reach of the general public,” she says. “It should be something you can take out into the street.”

Some of the carved leatherwork crafted by the Sin sisters and their students is on show in an exhibition at the IFT Educational Restaurant entitled “Inheritance – Exhibition of Handmade Leather Accessories and Carving Crafts by Teachers and Students,” which will run until 30 October.

Creativity cultivated

Speaking at the exhibition’s opening, IFT Tourism and Hotel School Director Ms. Diamantina Coimbra said the Institute had invited renowned and qualified designers of leatherwork to teach courses at the School since 2013 on the strength of a surge in the popularity of handcrafted leather accessories.

Ms. Coimbra said about 20,000 people a year attended vocational courses at the Tourism and Hotel School, and that some of these courses taught cultural and creative skills. “We wish not only to cultivate qualified craftsmen for Macao, but also to help them move up the social ladder,” she said.

The Tourism and Hotel School runs programmes of various durations and degrees of specialisation that teach creative skills. These skills range from fine art painting to computer animation to making leather accessories. Some courses lead to certificates or diplomas recognised internationally.

In cooperation with the Cultural Affairs Bureau, the Tourism and Hotel School has since 2011 been offering a programme leading to a Certificate in Arts Administration. This year, IFT and the Bureau began offering a similar course in Performing Arts Management. The purpose of the classes is to train managers for artistic and cultural industries.

To keep up with demand for training in creative skills, the Institute plans to broaden the range of courses it offers.

From hobby to brand

The co-founder of the Hong Kong leather workshop BEIS, Ms. Catherine Ling, says the number of leatherwork designers in Macao has grown in the 2 years since IFT began offering courses. Ms. Ling and her partner in BEIS, Mr. Ryan Lau, have been teaching leatherworking courses at IFT since 2013. One such course is called “Leather Craft – Design and Production of Handmade Practical Leather Accessories”; another is called “Leather Craft – Design and Handmade Accessories”; and a third is called “Leather Craft – Professional Design and Production of Handmade Leather Accessories”. Leatherwork by Ms. Ling, Mr. Lau and their students is among the exhibits on show at the IFT Educational Restaurant.

Also among the exhibits is an accessory handmade by course student Mr. Benny Fan. “Before IFT opened the leatherworking courses, I had to travel to Hong Kong to learn, as the choices in Macao were limited,” he says. “It’s more convenient now.” He works at a casino and regards leatherworking as a hobby, but he may yet try making a career of it. “I try to squeeze in some time for making pieces every day,” he says.

Ms. Ling says some of her students have set up their own leatherwork brands since taking her courses. “Some of them have sold their products at various fairs in Macao, such as the Tap Seac Art Fair,” she says. “So we also teach about brand management in our advanced course, sharing our experiences with students. The design of the products may look simple, but it takes many years of experience to master the skills needed to make them.”