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

Peranakan scholar Peter Lee donated several items to museums in Singapore, including a mahjong table set.
Peranakan scholar Peter Lee donated several items to museums in Singapore, including a mahjong table set.PHOTO: ALEX SOO

SINGAPORE - A mahjong table and four chairs in the Cantonese style of blackwood furniture, kebayas and old photographs are some of the many donations prominent Peranakan scholar Peter Lee and his family have made to museums in Singapore.

On Friday (May 11), Mr Lee was one of nearly 70 recipients of the National Heritage Board's Patron of Heritage Awards 2017.

The annual award, in its 12th year, recognises individuals and organisations who have contributed to heritage causes.

Last year (2017), the National Heritage Board (NHB) received artefacts and cash donations worth $5.5 million in total from 67 individuals and groups - including long-time benefactors as well as 29 new ones.

These patrons were recognised at an awards ceremony at the National Museum, where Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu presented them with digitised reproductions of watercolour drawings of pepper, Indonesian bay leaf and clove from the National Museum's William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings.

Mr Lee's family's mahjong table and chairs set, adorned with flora and fauna motifs in mother-of-pearl inlay, date back to the first half of the 20th century and were most likely made in Guangdong, China.

Mr Lee's late mother, Mrs Elizabeth Lee, bought it from a shop in Singapore and used it for mahjong from the mid-1970s until her death in 2015.

"My mother was the first serial hoarder and I inherited her genes," said Mr Lee, adding that he donated it to the Asian Civilisations Museum last year (2017) as "a nice tribute in memory of her".

More recently, Mr Lee's family donated more than 2,500 photos of Peranakans across Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Myanmar to the Peranakan museum for the Amek Gambar exhibition.

"I'm really pleased that the collecting mission (of the NHB) has broadened significantly," Mr Lee added. "Increasingly, there is an understanding that artefacts from our neighbours also build up our understanding of ourselves."

Ms Fu highlighted the contributions of several donors in her speech.

The family of the collectors Frank and Pamela Hickley, for instance, donated a collection of Chinese and Vietnamese blue-and-white export porcelain wares from the 15th to 19th centuries to the Asian Civilisations Museum.

The late couple had previously given their collection of blanc de Chine porcelain to the museum in 2000.

Meanwhile, the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall received a loan of a personal seal and two pocket watches from Ms Pauline Tan Wyatt.

These watches belonged to her late father, Hokkien merchant Tan Chor Lam, one of the founders of the Tong Men Hui (Chinese Revolutionary Alliance) in Singapore.

Home-grown nuts and chips brand Tai Sun (Lim Kee) Food Industries donated cash and food to the Children's Season Singapore and Wan Qing Festival.

Ms Esther Loo, the third-generation scion to the company, said they wanted to support events that encourage people to spend more time with their families.

Ms Mavis Toh, the business director of Lee Hwa Jewellery, which donated money to the National Museum from the sales of limited edition bangles, said: "We are excited and happy to be part of the museum's efforts to preserve Singapore stories... It would be great if the younger generation played a more active role in getting to know our history."

Ms Fu told the donors: "It is with your support that our museums have been able to present artefacts that allow us to discover about ourselves, Singapore and the world we live in."

"Our shared heritage is an important anchor to strengthening our cohesion, resilience and identity as a nation," Ms Fu added. "As we look back, we will gain a better understanding of who we are as a society. This would in turn lay a strong foundation for our future and allow us to seize opportunities to progress and prosper as a nation."