By Nurhafizah Tan
BESUT (Bernama) -- Who would've thought that beneath her gentle face and graceful demeanour, Ruwaida Baharudin was a woman who toiled away with a chisel and hammer in her workshop every day.
The 31-year-old mother of two has made a career out of her love for woodcarving and has been a woodcarving artisan for the past 10 years.
Although woodcarving is a field typically dominated by men, Ruwaida proved that her gender was not a handicap when it came to the creativity and stamina needed for the job.
Her involvement in the art started with an apprenticeship with Norhaiza Noordin, a renowned Malaysian master woodcarver who hailed from the district she was from.
A DIPLOMA IN CARVING
After her apprenticeship with the master craftsman, the Terengganu-born continued her education in the field and honed her mastery of the craft at the National Craft Institute.
"For three years I delved into the art of woodcarving at the institute and became more certain of my potential and future in the field. In addition to learning how to carve, I also began to understand more about marketing.
"The fact is that the demand for craft products is high but there is simply not many skilled artisans around," said Ruwaida, who holds a diploma in woodcarving.
Before branching out on her own, Ruwaida decided to acquire working experience by serving as a project staff at the Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation (Kraftangan Malaysia) for four years.
She started out with a capital of RM10,000 and then decided to open a workshop in her hometown of Besut with her husband Suhaimi Mohd Romli, 33.
"There are still many active woodcarvers in Besut, and that factored into my decision of starting a woodcarving business in my own hometown," said Ruwaida who is currently pregnant with her third child.
Always looking to improve her carving skill, Ruwaida joined a woodcarving project called Kraf Kampungku, an initiative of Kraftangan Malaysia to develop the craft-making industry in the local community under the One District One Industry programme.
She will also be one of the participants in the upcoming Kraf Kampungku programme at Desa Ukiran Kayu in Kampung Raja, here. The three-day programme starting March 15 will be on from 9.00 am to 6.00 pm.
MORE COMMERCIAL, AFFORDABLE
In order to distinguish her products with other similar ones in the market, Ruwaida comes up with designs that take into account the current tastes and trends. She also works hard to meet the requests of customers.
She has produced over 20 types of carved wood products including a ?rehal? (book rest) for the Quran, key cabinet, frame mirrors, wall décor and furniture pieces. The price of her work range between RM5 to RM40,000.
Ruwaida works mostly with 'jelutong' wood due to its property of being low in density, having straight grain and fine texture, making it easy to work with.
"Higher quality wood like cengal can be quite pricey, so not everyone would be able to afford the end product even if they love the piece. So I use a cheaper and more practical material to make my products more affordable," she shared.
She, however, has no problem fulfilling the requests of customers who prefer bespoke pieces made from premium quality wood, as long as they are willing to pay the price for it.
STILL IN DEMAND
She dismissed the notion that wood carved products were not very popular among the younger generation. In fact, she said, the demand for wooden furniture and décor was overwhelming.
As a young artisan, she constantly sought to come up with fresh designs to appeal to the newer generations.
"The younger generation must do what they can to keep this craft alive and breathe new air into it, so that it doesn't disappear with time.
"I hope more young people would open their eyes to the potential of this craft and others. Aside from its promising business potential, supporting this field is also an exercise in keeping our heritage alive," she said.
AS GOOD AS ANY MAN
Master Malay woodcarver Norhaiza praised his former apprentice's potential and said that it was no longer uncommon for women to excel in the field. He attributed the shifting trend to the efforts of Kraftangan Malaysia.
He was also proud that there were successful female woodcarvers cum entrepreneurs today and that one of them even held the title of the National Craft Institute's best student.
Norhaiza believed that it was the high diligence and focus of women woodcarvers that helped them produce intricate work.
"Technically, there is still room for improvement but they are getting there. In this field, it is not only talent that matters but attitude as well," he said.
He said that in the olden days, women used to stay away from woodcarving as they felt it was a job more suited for men.
Although that was no longer the case, he said that the number of women woodcarvers today were still very few.
Many had the basic skills but lacked the commitment to turn it into a career or source of income.
Norhaiza believed that spousal support was crucial to a woman's success in the field.
"From what I have seen, the women woodcarvers who are still making it out in the field are those who are also married to woodcarvers and are working together in the field," he revealed.
He called on all the relevant parties to encourage and support more women to enter the field of woodcarving so that the skilled ones could continue excelling and help meet the demand for carved wood products.