Khmer couple preserves art of glass painting
SOC TRANG — Passing through the hands of the old couple, clear glass plates become resplendent with gorgeous landscapes and the stuff of Buddhist legends.
|Glass that lasts: Artist Son Bol works on a glass painting. He is one of the oldest artists still plying his trade. — File Photo
The husband-and-wife team of Son Bol and Ly Thi Thien are the oldest Khmer artists making glass paintings in Phuoc Thuan Village in the southern province of Soc Trang.
The art of painting on glass has developed since 1960 and become the "traditional" art of the Khmer people in Soc Trang. Phuoc Thuan is now well-known throughout the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta region for its glass painters and their beautiful artworks
Painters in Phuoc Thuan have their own secret to mixing paints to keeping the colours fast. A painting can be stored for 20 years without losing its vibrancy, according to Bol.
Bol started painting at the age of 16. Nowadays, while fewer painters follow the art, Bol and his wife still have a strong attachment to it.
"I was one of the first artists to make Phuoc Thuan glass paintings," Bol said. "Now, at the age of 70, I want to walk the last steps of my life with this art. Especially since fewer artists are pursuing this, I'm aware of the responsibility to preserve the art."
Artist starts the work on the rear of the glass plate which they cover with a layer of rough paint to make the colours stick to the glass. They then paint on the backside of the glass.
While it takes at least a year to master the art, Bol says, artists can continue to improve their techniques to make the paintings more beautiful and long-lasting.
The old couple have produced thousands of glass paintings expressing Khmer culture during their 50-year career. The paintings sell particularly well on the occasion of the Khmer new year festival of Chol Chnam Thmey in mid-April.
"The Khmer often decorate their homes to celebrate the festival, with many returning home to enjoy the holiday, so they buy many glass paintings," Bol said.
The couple can produce three or four paintings per day, and a 40cm by 60cm painting can be sold for VND200,000 (about US$10).
On these occasions, members of Ly Thi Chil's family also gather to make glass paintings. Chil supervises others in her family to undertake different steps in the process of making glass paintings to finish orders on time.
"During the days near Tet and Chol Chnam Thmey, we work all day and night," she said. "Despite being exhausted, we are satisfied with the income."
Phuoc Thuan glass paintings are also exported to Laos and Cambodia, says Duong Thi Ha, chairwomen of the Women's Union of Phu Tan Commune.
"Income from selling glass paintings guarantees a living for many people," she said. "Making the paintings also helps preserve and promote the Khmer's traditional art."
Glass paintings are a cultural expression of the Khmer people, but they don't serve the demand of Khmers only. Colourful glass paintings have also been used to decorate modern architectures. — VNS