Old carpenter turns artist with realistic models of buildings, landmarks

SINGAPORE - Building things from scratch has always been Sum Kin Nar's first love.

Known affectionately as Uncle Sum, the 75-year-old spent 50 years of his life as a carpenter. The highlight of his career, he says with a smattering of English and Mandarin, was constructing the wooden doors of then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong's home.

"He (Goh) would stop by to have a quick chat with my colleagues and I after work," Uncle Sum said as he recalled his encounter with Mr Goh.

"He's such a nice person".

Uncle Sum has since retired from the workforce, but the restless old man has found a way to continue building things. To carry on his love for handiwork, he has found solace in model building, which started out as an antidote to boredom about ten years ago.

"I'm too old to work anymore. Building these models is better than doing nothing at home," he said.

Uncle Sum works on the models every morning, piecing them together with small wood planks, popsicle sticks and plastic sheets, which are purchased at a Japanese discount store.

Each model is completed within four to five months, and he is not always successful on the first try. One particular model of a wooden cottage was so fragile and complex that it took Uncle Sum three attempts before he completed it. That model was the hardest structure he has ever built, he said.

Uncle Sum admits that he has a penchant for working at a slower pace. This ensures that all the details are done right, which is a trait adopted during his carpentry days.

"It's okay if I can't finish building the models on time. It's not urgent."

Although model building requires an immense amount of concentration, patience, and dexterity, Uncle Sum has proven that age is no barrier.

He is now the proud owner of a collection of 15 models, all painstakingly made with intricate and life-like details.

Uncle Sum's handcrafted works are currently being displayed at an exhibition space in Chinatown. Two models, priced between $300 to $500, have been sold so far.

Despite the growing interest in his models, Uncle Sum prefers to take pride in the process of constructing miniature boats and traditional houses.

After all, they are his 'babies'.

"Of course I'm satisfied with my models. I put a lot of effort into building them."


What: Popsicle Stick Architecture

Where: B.NU Space, 333 Kreta Ayer Road #02-34 Singapore 080333

When: Now till Dec 6. Closed on Monday and Tuesday.

The exhibition is open for viewing by appointment at space333@bnulicious.com