Love lights up his workshop

Tool time: Loh and Elaine putting their finishing touches on some lanterns made from recyclable material at his workshop in Ayer Itam, Penang.

GEORGE TOWN: Once a year, mechanic Loh Ban Tatt would turn his garage into a lantern workshop for a month.

Due to his love for making lanterns during the Mid-Autumn Festival, the 53-year-old actually turns down customers in need of car repairs, so that he can solder, glue and paint lanterns to his heart’s content.

Only regular customers with minor fixer-uppers get his attention, and he then goes back to his workbenches full of elaborate lanterns in progress at his Ayer Itam workshop.

His passion has grown so strong over the years that even his wife, Elaine Teoh, 52, and his two sons aged 16 and 17 chip in.

“For almost 20 years, my lanterns are made with recyclable materials.

A closeup of one of Loh’s more elaborate lanterns. — CHAN BOON KAI/The StarA closeup of one of Loh’s more elaborate lanterns. — CHAN BOON KAI/The Star

“The figurines are made out of clay, while their structures and panels are made from plastic bottles and caps, leftover fabric and other throwaways,” he said.

Loh’s skill as a mechanic and car repairman shows in his artwork.

How he paints his lanterns, shapes the wire frames and uses LED lights to make elaborate and even ornate lanterns demonstrate his hand skills.

Loh said he started making lanterns in 2014 after friends encouraged him to pursue his passion and express himself.

“Since I was a child in the 80s, I was fascinated with lanterns, especially those made for display during events.

“After I started my car workshop, friends asked me to make lanterns instead of just admiring the works of others.

“My first lantern was simple and small but as the years passed, I got better at it,” smiled Loh.

He had long ago decided to use recyclable materials, and admitted that after a few years, his creations would break down.

“Material-wise, they’re not expensive, but it demands a lot of effort and time to put together thousands of parts and detail the colours and textures.

“This is why I need to close my workshop for a month even to make just one or two lanterns each year,” he said.

This year, Loh has just completed his latest creation, featuring bunnies made out of polystyrene fruit wrappers in honour of the Year Of The Rabbit, plus a dragon and lotus flowers.

It also includes figurines of a family seated around a revolving table to signify happy reunions.

Loh said that he has won numerous lantern competitions in the past, but he never sold any of his creations and his chief aim is to spread the culture and encourage others to love the environment by recycling and re-using throwaways.

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