A Stone Mosaic in the Art Gallery

The kids at Little Hearts love to paint and sculpt. Under the guidance of a teacher, 11 of our residents take art classes on weekends – one of several extracurricular activities they may participate in, including taekwondo, football, Khmer traditional dance and hip-hop.

The art classes began in 2018. After seeing the kids’ enthusiasm and talent for painting, Tony and the staff increasingly turned to experienced professionals to teach them the finer points of visual art. They have had several inspirational art instructors over the years, including Morn Phyra, a graduate of the Royal University of Fine Arts. It was Phyra who came up with the idea to build an outdoor art gallery behind the old nursery to display the kids’ outstanding artwork for visitors and sponsors. Besides showcasing the kids’ work, the gallery functions as a meditative and recreational space to help our young artists develop creative ideas. During the Covid-19 pandemic, when the kids were cooped up at home for several months, it was a vital venue where they could continue their art activities.

Designed and built by the kids themselves, the original gallery was made of bamboo, rattan and recycled materials. It had a roof to protect the art collection from the rain. Recently, however, we noticed that the gallery needed refurbishment. Several years of inclement Cambodian weather had worn it out; the roof kept being dislodged by wind and rain, and the rattan and bamboo walls were faded and cracked. It was high time for a new gallery and, in fact, a larger one, as the art collection has grown considerably after years of student participation in the art sessions. Our ambition was to make the new gallery out of different materials, such as wood, metal and stone, and to be able to display not only paintings, but also drawings, prints, sculpture, and the 3D models made by our university students (such as Ilay’s interior design mock-ups and, soon, Sarem’s architectural projects).

The new gallery, designed by the students and their current art teacher, Kong Voleak, will feature four sections, each with a different theme:

  1. Cambodian culture
  2. The Khmer Rouge
  3. Multicoloured art
  4. A ‘makerspace’ to exhibit projects

The centrepiece of the first section, dedicated to Cambodian culture, is the Stone Wall, which the kids have been working on and is now complete. The idea to build a stone wall came to Ilse and Roxanne when they were on vacation in Thailand and visited the elaborately landscaped Nong Nooch Tropical Gardens near Pattaya, which has many unusual features, including rooftops and walls decorated with stone mosaics.

The new Stone Wall at Little Hearts is located on the left side as you enter the gallery and displays a stone mosaic in Angkorian style depicting the battle between the troops of King Jayavarman VII and the invading army of the Cham kingdom. Besides our art students and the art teacher, the entire Level 3 class (i.e. all the older kids) was involved in this project. Ilse (while she was still here) and Roxanne supervised and continually evaluated the work; and Billy, of course, pitched in as well, especially with the most technical aspects, such as laying the cement and taking accurate measurements.

We used at least 3,000 pebbles and stones of various sizes and different colours (white, brown, black, reddish, yellowish/gold, and three shades of grey) to decorate the Stone Wall. Fixing the stones in place was a huge technical challenge. It took us over a dozen attempts with different types of glue and other adhesives before we figured out the most effective and durable way of attach them. Finally, with lots of patience (as well as lots of frustration!) and perseverance, we found a way, using a special cement mix to fix the stones in place.

Planning and building the wall was very slow work, especially because Tony decreed that it could not interfere with schoolwork, so it took us almost six months to finish the project. We started during the kids’ two-month school vacation (October and November 2023), when we were able to work on the wall for up to three hours per day, and continued at a slower pace once school resumed. But as you all know, creativity can’t be rushed!

And now, there are three more sections of the gallery to work on…

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