Vietnam Art Books -- Bronze artist carves out a name for herself (November 05, 2006)

Bronze artist carves out a name for herself (November 05, 2006)

Her handiwork: Huong poses beside one of her latest products, the Dong Son Drum.
The imposing, heavy bronze statues and jars in the shop on Yen Phu Street look as though they were formed by the strong hands of a burly artisan.

In reality, these pieces are the handiwork of Le Dieu Huong, a 29-year-old woman living in the capital city who has established herself in the art world with her bronze-based work.

The daughter of two generations of skilled copper craftsmen, Huong learned to work with bronze as naturally as she learned to eat with chopsticks.

Since she spent her childhood running around her father’s workshop, it’s hard to say when she actually began developing her craft.

"When I was a child, I would be excited when I saw my father’s and grandfather’s work," Huong said. "I really had a passion for metalworking, and I knew that I would someday join the career of my father and grandfather and make bronze-based products."

Other members of Huong’s family also followed her father’s footsteps, but only she has maintained her interest in the work and continued practising the craft.

Now, Huong has come into her own, developing from a seven-year-old apprentice to an independent artist. As a child, she often spent all her free time studying bronze-making techniques with her family and helping her father with small pieces of his projects.

Now Huong takes the reigns in every step of the process, from the design to the die casting to the carving.

"I could never remember the total number of bronze products I have made. The number may be in the thousands!" Huong exclaimed. "But I remember my first complete product, a 2.2m-statue of Bodhisattva Kwan Yin with 1,000 hands and 1,000 eyes sitting on a Buddha’s throne."

Since then, she has made many more Buddha statues, and she often crafts large bells and jars as well. Huong’s aptitude for drawing and her steady, precise hand make her pieces stand out against those of her competitors in the business.

As the subjects for her pieces, Huong often chooses Vietnamese legends.

"As a Hanoian, I take inspiration from the city’s history," she said.

Recently, she completed a bronze picture commemorating the anniversary of the capital. On it, she depicted a scene from the legend of King Le Loi, in which he returns the sword to the holly tortoise in Hoan Kiem Lake.

"It took me six months to complete the picture. Even the idea for the picture didn’t come to me for a long time," Huong said.

She says that with the piece, she wanted to convey her gratitude to the older generation of Vietnamese people who fought for her country. In order to make the picture as accurate and compelling as possible, Huong sought advice from experts like historian Duong Trung Quoc in the process of crafting the picture.

"He advised me in the design process. Thanks to his help, I could successfully complete my work," Huong said.

Her hundreds of hours of work paid off in the final product: an intricate, sophisticated bronze carving, inlaid with silver and smooth to the touch, though it has been carved.

Instead of selling the picture, Huong wants to present it at the ceremony for the capital city’s 1,000th anniversary in 2010.

The craftiest: Le Dieu Huong poses with the other winners of the Golden Hand Award at Festival Hue 2006. At 29, Huong was the youngest craftswoman to win the award. — VNS Photos Quoc Tuan.
Unlike most other artists who work with bronze, Huong does not duplicate her work by reusing molds because she wants each piece to be distinctive. Each piece is hand-crafted to suit the request of the buyer. Depending on the wishes of her customers, who include both local bronze collectors and Vietnamese living abroad, Huong can make products look ancient or modern.

Normally, she needs at least one month to complete a product, and some have taken her as long as one year. Huong has a habit of becoming sucked into projects and spending hours upon hours in her workshop, but her husband and family try to make sure she maintains a healthy lifestyle.

"I worry every time she forgets to sleep or eat because she’s working so hard," Huong’s husband said. "But if I told her to stop working, it would be like ordering her to stop breathing."

Huong’s hard work has paid off, earning her a number of prizes for excellence in craftsmanship. She won the Viet Nam Quintessence award and is one of 10 people awarded the Viet Nam Star.

Huong is interested in sharing her expertise with students, much like the way her father and grandfather passed their knowledge on to her.

"I always want to find people to teach who are as passionate about bronze work as I am, but I have not found any yet," she said.

At times, Huong’s work wears on her; the pieces are large and heavy, and she works alone, since she is the only one in her family still pursuing metalwork, now that her grandfather and father are old. Nonetheless, she has no intention of giving up her work anytime soon and is looking to expand her business by widening the production area.

"Now, my greatest desire is simple. I wish to continue my work until the end of my life," Huong said. — VNS

Reprinted with permission from Vietnam News Agency


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