As our nation turns 56 this year, we put the spotlight on the exciting journeys fellow Singaporeans chasing their dreams. Laura Peh has come a long way, after stints at many different cities, she is finally home, and through cinnamon art stories, is aiming to make a positive difference in a child’s life. Read about her journey!
28 July 2021 / By Laura Peh
There is a saying that your past experiences shape who you are today, and these collective memories form our identity.
My recollections of different moments in my journey through life led to the creation of a passion project: cinnamon art stories – a boutique publisher of children’s books celebrating art and creativity. Since young, it has been a dream of mine to make an impact on children while sharing my background in the arts. Travelling, art and design have been a huge source of inspiration, and finding the perfect outlet to transfer my memories has been incredibly fulfilling. We hope to introduce unique topics to children through engaging illustrations, and encourage them to see the world in a different light.
I was born in 1993 in Pokfulam – the Western coast of Hong Kong. The city is my paternal grandmother’s hometown and my family had been based there for a few years prior to my birth. My rebellious personality came out quite early at home and in school, where I was selective about participating in group activities in kindergarten, hid vegetables in plants, and managed to find sweets that were tucked away.
My family moved back to Singapore in 2000 – coincidentally in time to start primary 1 at Raffles Girls’ Primary School. From the first day, I experienced bullying from classmates (for my petite stature), and occasions when teachers didn’t believe that I had made my artworks. Two years later, I transferred to Methodist Girls’ School where I was no longer bullied, but school life was still all about doing well in classes.
When the opportunity to move to Paris to study music at the age of 15 arose, I jumped at the chance. Spending 5 years in Paris was an eye-opening experience! Knowing little French and constantly being aware of my surroundings made me realise how insular and safe we are in our little red-dot bubble. The French are very inclusive and liberal – for 6 months, I lived in an apartment along rue des Lombards (a street with famous jazz clubs), directly above a gay bar and didn’t even notice! The diversity of ethnicities and array of encyclopaedic museums changed my perspective and opened my mind to the beauty of social connections and culture. The education system was completely different – emphasis on 1-to-1 teaching, active class contributions and encouragement of independent thought.
When I turned 19, I needed a change and headed to London to complete my undergraduate degree at the Royal College of Music in South Kensington. At the same time, I started interning at different art organisations such as Christie’s, Jewish Museum, Grosvenor Gallery and Vastari. After my music degree, I pursued a graduate diploma at the Courtauld Institute of Art at Somerset House, followed by a Masters degree at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in Bedford Square. There were many opportunities in London, and my weekends and holidays were spent volunteering or interning. London is truly a city where you can never be bored, and its proximity to continental Europe makes travel so convenient. I made many of my closest friends there!
By the time my graduation came around, I had been abroad for 9 years and felt a little homesick. Most of my classmates from school were working in Singapore and I was losing touch with them. I also wanted to see how the country had changed and how I could best contribute with my skill set. I decided to move back, with the intention to stay for 5 years. I was lucky enough to quickly find roles in the non-profit and start-up sectors, while also performing and teaching as a harpist, as well as managing cultural projects on the side.
The arts scene in Singapore was a little quiet back then and after visiting Art Basel in Hong Kong in March 2018, I felt compelled to be part of their vibrant community. I wrote to a few art galleries and a few months later, I received a job offer at a blue-chip art gallery in Hong Kong and made the move within a week! It was my first time living in such a tiny space, and I was excited about the energy and life of the city. Everything about Hong Kong fascinated me – the history, culture, nightlife, food, lifestyle, shopping, weather, nature, people. At this point, I still had projects in the lion city and for the next 2 years, travelled back and forth monthly between the two cities. Working in the fast-paced corporate world in Hong Kong taught me a lot about the real world and human nature. You learn to be on your toes all the time, and it’s an experience that I would recommend to all young people!
In March 2020, at the peak of COVID-19 and when the 14-day quarantine in both cities began, I had to make a quick decision on which city to be based in for the foreseeable future. Before moving to Hong Kong in 2018, I spent a year working with CRIB – a social enterprise that empowers women to become successful entrepreneurs through networking opportunities, business matching and professional development. I met many small business owners whom I am still friends with, and it was inspiring to hearing their stories. I felt the community in Singapore would be more supportive for a young, female, small business founder like myself, not to mention the variety of public and private sector grants for SMEs available. I moved back to Singapore just before the 2-month circuit breaker – it was the perfect time to conceptualise cinnamon art stories and turn it into reality. I’ve always wanted to be able to share my international experiences in a meaningful way while making an impact on the next generations. Our successors need to have a creative and open mind, imagination, and most importantly, independent thought.
Since launching our first collection – Exploring Art – in January 2021, our books have been stocked at over 29 retail points across 6 countries. In this collection, we introduce the life stories of 6 important artists of the 20th century. Most art books for young children are either colouring books or general art knowledge; we wish that children will learn to recognise distinctive art styles through our titles. Our music instrument collection will be released later this year, as well as a special bean-to-cup coffee journey book coming out in the summer!
To promote creativity, we recently started cinnamon creative sessions – workshops for children aged 3 to 11. Inspired by our publications, these sessions allow children to express themselves, and bring their imagination to life through fun activities and shared conversations! We hope that children will grow up with curiosity and discover their potential through creative pursuits. It’s our dream to make a positive difference in a child’s life and it’s truly heart-warming to see the smiles on their faces after each session!
About Laura Peh
Laura is a Singaporean who was born in Hong Kong, raised in Singapore, and studied in Paris and London. After moving back to Singapore in 2020 amidst COVID-19, she founded cinnamon art stories – a boutique publisher of children’s books celebrating art and creativity. Her multifaceted life is inspired by the beauty of art, design and charming cities around the world.
Feel free to connect with Laura on LinkedIn and Instagram.