Penang Happenings | Traditional Signboard Making A Decline Trend
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Traditional Signboard Making A Decline Trend

The Chinese Song Dynasty has had its glory years with an increase of literacy due to the invention of moveable type printing. This led to the widespread demand of wooden signboard for business owners as it can be seen to bring good luck to businesses. Kok Ying Chow from Guangdong Province of China had mastered the art at the age of 14 before moving to George Town, Penang to continue the handcraft work.

Making a signboard from scratch with bare hands and tools may seem easy to many, but to these highly skilled craftsmen, even the slightest details of having it carved deep and aligned accurately are their utmost concern. From a solid wooden board, the wood will be cut and sandpapered, before producing a smooth surface upon finishing. The board will then be painted and polished for a smooth and shiny surface.

Kok Ying Chow’s apprentice, Kok Ah Wah who started learning the art at the age of 14 as well, now 77, used to watch his father carve and engrave wooden traditional signboards by hand. From there, Ah Wah’s passion for making traditional signboards began to grow. The veteran still uses the old tools such as jig saw, hand saw, chisel, file and wood plane instead of modern machinery that lack in sharpness.

Ah Wah’s handmade signboards are sold at a range of RM100 to RM4,000 depending on the type of wood used and its sizes. In 2006, Ah Wah was among five others who was awarded the Penang Living Heritage Treasures, spends his day at the shop at Queen Street carving wood of Chinese characters and sometimes also, English letterings as well. According to him, the business is still in demand and he does it purely out of passion. Additionally, it is said that none of his children are willing to carry on his trade as they find it too time consuming.

Sadly today, Kok Ah Wah is said to be the only traditional signboard maker left for fellow Penangites and Malaysians to appreciate. As technology advances where many of us opt for various digital forms of signage to be used, thus, this has been creating a great challenge for these craftsmen who succeeded in making a living from passion to business.

Those who are fond of the art may visit the signboard carver Kok Ah Wah at:

Kok Ying Chow Signboard Maker
41, Queen Street,
10200 George Town,