Donors celebrated at National Heritage Board's Patron of Heritage awards

Hong Kong-based Singaporean Edmond Chin, a bespoke jewellery designer, has donated several rare artefacts to the Asian Civilisations Museum.
First-time donors Mr Koh Lip Koon (left) and Mr Koh Lip Siang (right) with some of the artworks by their father, the late artist Koh Cheng Foo, better known by his pen-name Marco Hsu. PHOTOS: ASIAN CIVILISATIONS MUSEUM, JAMIE KOH, NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD
Hong Kong-based Singaporean Edmond Chin, a bespoke jewellery designer, has donated several rare artefacts to the Asian Civilisations Museum.
Hong Kong-based Singaporean Edmond Chin, a bespoke jewellery designer, has donated several rare artefacts to the Asian Civilisations Museum.PHOTOS: ASIAN CIVILISATIONS MUSEUM, JAMIE KOH, NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD

They include several long-time donors as well as first-time contributors who have donated in cash and kind

Several long-time donors as well as first-time heritage champions are being honoured at the National Heritage Board's annual Patron of Heritage awards, now into their 10th year.

Among the 104 recipients are Hong Kong-based Singaporean Edmond Chin, a bespoke jewellery designer and long-time benefactor of the Asian Civilisations Museum.

Mr Koh Lip Koon and Mr Koh Lip Siang - sons of the late art critic Koh Cheng Foo, prominently known by his pen-name Ma Ge or Marco Hsu - donated 102 artworks by their father to the NUS Museum and will receive the Friend of Heritage award.

The awards will be presented tonight by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu in a ceremony at the National Museum of Singapore. They recognise individuals, corporations and organ- isations who donate generously - in cash and kind - to help the arts, culture and heritage thrive.

In a telephone interview from Hong Kong, Mr Chin says museums are "irreplaceable". He has donated several rare artefacts - including four marble sculptures dating back to early 500BC, a large intricately carved Teochew door frame from the 19th century and a stunning Straits Chinese peacock belt made of gold and diamonds - to the Asian Civilisations Museum.

He says: "You cannot take all these things with you when you die."

His donation of the marble sculptures from Hebei and Shaanxi provinces in China fills a significant gap in the museum's collection of early Chinese Buddhist sculptures.

Calling museums "a repository of world cultures and stories", he says it is important for donors to add to the narrative that museums are documenting.

For his contribution, the 52-year- old receives the highest honour - the Distinguished Patron of Heritage Award, which goes to donors who contribute cash or items valued at $2 million and above.

The award will also be given out to Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple in Waterloo Street, whose donation to the Asian Civilisations Museum last year allowed it to acquire artefacts associated with Buddhism for its galleries.

The temple and Mr Chin are among the 45 recipients this year who are repeat donors.

The other 59 patrons who are being honoured are new, such as the Koh brothers.

They decided to donate artworks done by their father, who died in 1993 aged 85, after their sister, Madam Phillips Hsu, urged them to. The 47 works of calligraphy and 55 sketches were done when Singapore's art scene was in its early stages and portray Singapore as well as their father's travels around the region.

The brothers say their father, a reputed art critic in his time, also had a much less-known life as an artist.

In 1963, writing under the pen name Marco Hsu, he published a series of essays on the cultural history of the people of the Malayan peninsula. His insightful analysis of the development of art history in Malaya and Singapore raised questions about Malayan identities and culture for a fledgling nation, and put issues of identity and nation- building in the spotlight.

While their father's writing is well-recorded, the brothers say his artworks were just sitting at home. The Friend of Heritage award is given for donations in cash, kind or material valued from $50,000 to $149,999.

Says Mr Koh Lip Koon, 68, a consulting engineer: "Of course, we are very honoured to receive this award, but the bigger story here is the preservation of heritage and the many stories our father has left us with."

His 66-year-old brother, who is semi-retired, adds that it "is important to share these stories".

Established in 2006, the Patron of Heritage awards aim to cultivate a pool of supporters for the museums and encourage others to be involved in adding to, treasuring and preserving Singapore's unique heritage.


GOLDEN STUPA

by Marco Hsu (Koh Cheng Foo)

Pen on paper, 38.2x28cm (Donated by brothers Koh

Lip Koon and Koh Lip Siang, who will receive the Friend of Heritage award)

As an art critic and writer, Hsu (whose real name was Koh Cheng Foo) helped shape the early years of Singapore's art history.

What is less known is that he was an artist too. His art was inspired by street scenes here as well as his travels in the region with fellow artists.

This sketch may have been of a stupa in the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh or a stupa in Thailand. In 1963, he travelled to Thailand and Cambodia with the Ten Men Art Group, an informal group of artists whose interest was to undertake field trips in the region.


1865 WRAPPER

(Donated by Mr Tan Ah Ee, who will receive the Friend of Heritage award. There are 22 recipients in this award category)

Last year, Mr Tan, a well-known philatelist who has received several awards for his extensive philatelic collection that has been featured in many exhibitions around the world, donated the 1865 wrapper to the Singapore Philatelic Museum.

The wrapper, sent from Singapore to Paris, bears a large number of rare Indian stamps dating from 1856 to 1864.

The multiple marks on it also show the long mail voyages of the past.


SEATED MAITREYA

China, Hebei, Eastern Wei dynasty (534-550)

Marble, 59cm high (Donated by Mr Edmond Chin)

This sculpture of Maitreya, seen as the Buddha of the future, is a rare piece. The robe drapes in U-shaped folds, with one leg crossing the other. A lotus-form incense-burner supported by a kneeling youth is carved on the front of the plinth. Lions stand on each side. The nose, limbs and halo of this sculpture have been restored.


PEACOCK BELT

Singapore or Straits Settlements, around 1900

Gold and diamonds, 34x4cm (Donated by Mr Edmond Chin, who will receive the Distinguished Patron of Heritage Award)

This stunning elaborate gold-and-diamond peacock belt comprises 18 linked gold panels decorated with 75 carats of diamonds, including a central diamond that weighs more than 5 carats. The diamonds are in exotic colours, which include shades of yellow, brown and orange-pink.

The peacock, traditionally an Indian motif, is the main design in each panel of the belt, which belonged to a Peranakan family in Singapore.


NECKLACE WITH RUBIES, EMERALDS AND DIAMONDS

20th century, Vietnam

(On loan from Saigon Chettiars' Temple Trust Pte Ltd)

The temple will receive the Distinguished Supporter of Heritage award, given to donors who contribute long-term loans with values of $1 million and above.

It is the only donor in this category. The necklace is part of an important group of jewellery and jewelled accessories from the Saigon Chettiars Temple Trust that add to the narrative of Singapore's Indian Heritage Centre.

Such items were donated for ornamentation of deities at Sri Thendayuthapani Temple, by the Chettiar community in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries. The Chettiar community of businessmen hail from Chettinad

in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. They are among the early Indian migrants to the South-east Asian region. They had business interests in Vietnam, Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2016, with the headline '104 recipients for Patron of Heritage awards'. Print Edition | Subscribe