Vietnam Art Books -- Artist crafts retreat out of architectural melange (July 14, 2004)

Artist crafts retreat out of architectural melange (July 14, 2004)

Arcadia: A view of Thanh Chuong's phu (palace) in Hien Ninh Commune, Soc Son District. VNS Photos Truong Vi.
Tea for two: Airy buildings, designed in the northern architectural style, invite visitors to sit and drink tea.
Natural habitat: Chuong's estate serves as a museum of Vietnamese antiques.
One Ha Noi artist, Nguyen Thanh Chuong, has created a work of art on a much larger scale than his famous lacquer paintings, drawing locals 30km out of the capital's centre to Soc Son District to take a look.

Nguyen Thanh Chuong's phu, or palace, sits on 10,000sq.m in Hien Ninh Commune. Built in 2001, the estate incorporates a multitude of buildings reflecting the diversity of Viet Nam's architectural heritage. Each of the buildings contains historical antiques and works of art.

From 200m away, visitors can see a tower, overlooking the roofs of the estate's temples and pagodas.

Though Thanh Chuong lives and works in the phu on weekends, it is open for free to the public everyday.

As visitors push open the large wooden gate they enter a microcosm of Vietnamese culture, with buildings and artefacts from all over the country.

The tower they first saw from the highway reveals itself to be a reproduction of the famous tower from the But Thap (Pen Tower) Pagoda in northern Bac Ninh Province.

Surrounding the tower is a five-storey building incorporating themes from the country's mountainous northern areas, two historic houses transported from Bac Ninh and a wooden ancestor temple from Nam Dinh Province.

A house on stilts with a thatched roof and ironwood pillars is Chuong's studio where he paints and entertains friends.

Pagodas, small temples, houses on stilts, and brick buildings dot the estate showcasing statues, ceramic jars and hoanh phi (horizontal lacquered boards).

While some have criticised Chuong as being overly ostentatious, the 55-year-old artist insists his trang trai (country farm), is more than just a mansion; it is a museum.

"I recognise that in the past, many people did not understand or appreciate traditional culture. Many precious items have been forgotten, destroyed, thrown away or taken abroad. Some historic artefacts have been damaged. I want to help preserve our cultural heritage," Chuong said.

With thousands of valuable antiques, many visitors wonder why Chuong allows them to freely come and go as they please, entering any room of any of the buildings.

"I'm not trying to run a business. I don't collect entrance fees. Everyone can come visit my house. My aim is to introduce Vietnamese culture," he said.

"The more visitors the better, only by seeing historic architecture and antiques can people appreciate the art of previous generations."

One such visitor Hang Huong said of the historic brick buildings, "They have many doors opened to different directions. This allows for greater interaction between human beings and nature. Standing here, I am able to forget all the ugly confined concrete buildings in the city."

Regular Hanoians are not the only ones to take notice of Chuong's estate. Both Minister of Culture and Information Pham Quang Nghi and Queen Silvia Gustaf of Sweden have visited the site.

"Look at the old lime pots and terracotta vases," said another visitor, Thu Huyen, "they are normal things found in many Vietnamese homes, especially in rural areas. But located on the estate, they seem very arty."

Throughout the buildings are a plethora of Buddha statues and ceramic, pottery and stone objects, which Chuong has been collecting for the last 30 years.

"I have been a collector since I was young. My home, growing up, was full of such statues, candelabra and lanterns. Today, when everyone pays attention to the value of our national heritage, we all recognise just how valuable many of these objects really are," Chuong said.

"I am happy that the estate has helped people understand the importance of preserving traditional objects. I hope by coming here, people will feel relaxed and will be motivated to do good," the painter said. VNS

Reprinted with permission from Vietnam News Agency


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