|Carpentry kid: Huynh Ri (first right) teaches his 10-year-old grandson Huynh Tan Quoc to carve a wooden statue at a workshop in Hoi An's Kim Bong Village. The trade has been practised in the village since the 15th century, but is in danger of disappearing because young people prefer profitable jobs over carpentry. — VNS Photo Cong Thanh
by Hoai Nam
(VNS) Craftsman Huynh Ri, 74, from Kim Bong Village in ancient Hoi An Town, still makes wooden carvings, but his age limits his output.
Ri, who was recognised in 1984 as having the skills of 15th century wood carvers, worries that the village's traditional craft will disappear in the next few years because few young people wish to learn the craft.
"I'm the12th generation of craftsmen in my village, but young people prefer more profitable businesses. The craft takes three years to learn and then a couple of years practising," he said.
"My son and I have trained about 100 local young people at five courses since 1997 with a US$4,000 grant from UNESCO. They are now the main carpenters and carvers in the village."
The village, situated on the banks of the Thu Bon River 10 minutes by boat from the ancient town, is a recognised tourist destination together with Thanh Ha pottery village and Ma Chau silk village in Hoi An Town.
However, poor promotion and marketing has limited the craft, despite the enthusiasm, of thousands of tourists.
Huynh Suong, 45, who inherits the trade from his father, Huynh Ri, employs 20 carvers and carpenters at his own workshop to produce 5,000 products each year.
"Furniture is our major exports to Australia, France, and the UK, the US, but we face difficulties with designs of souvenirs serving for tourists. Our majority designs are Buddha statues, animals, including the four supernatural creatures (dragon, unicorn, tortoise, phoenix)," said Suong.
He said his workshop had received support from UNESCO in 2012-13 in promoting the production and design, adding he had begun production of wood arts and crafts since 1992 when tourism was booming in Hoi An.
Pham Thi Thanh Huong, from UNESCO, said the tourism boosting project in the craft village was started in late 2010.
"We began a pilot project to develop tourism in the village with a hope of promoting the trade along with tourism development. Hoi An and My Son – two UNESCO-recognised world heritage sites – have great potential in history, tradition, culture and environment, to promote tourism," Huong said.
"Local people still keep their mindsets with small and short-term production. They still lack of a strategy of promotion, trading, advertising for their products. They should include tangible and intangible value as well as symbolic images of Hoi An in production."
Huong said UNESCO had co-operated with the Craftlink and the Korea National University of Arts in boosting crafts in Kim Bong so marketable.
"We supported 238 households in Hoi An and My Son with design, package and pattern as well as diversifying of production. We also helped them develop new products from carpentry, ceramic and lantern trades such as interior decoration or kitchen tools with eye-catching designs," she added.
"We also help local people set up connections with hotels, restaurants and resort in order to introduce products for tourists as well as participating in international fairs."
Suong said he proposed plans to preserve the carpentry at the village.
"I think it needs to create a financial source to nurture young craftsmen in village. Of course, local people should provide an initial fund for young people demonstrating the trade for tourists and fund for preserving the trade," he said.
"Local administration should give a monthly payment of VND100 million (US$4,800) for [about 20] young trainees working at carving shops. They will demonstrate the trade for tourism. The payment will last in three years when households are allowed to sell ticket for tourists visiting the village.
"The support would help preserve both carving and carpentry by creating a stable income for craftsmen."
The central Quang Nam Province has invested VND9.5 billion ($452,000) in infrastructure projects to ease the transport to the craft village.
Truong Chi Trung, director of Hoi An Town's Centre for Cultural Heritage Management and Preservation, said the town had different programmes to preserve the craft.
"Total fund of VND400 million ($19,000) has helped train young carvers in Kim Bong Village since 1997, of which 60 per cent from the city's budget," Trung said.
"We also try to seek fund for preserving trades in the city including pottery, lantern and silk."
Huynh Tan Quoc, 10, grandson of old craftsman Ri, has trained the craft over past years.
"I love carving. My father and grandfather train me every day. However, I need to be stronger to work well with carpentry tools," Quoc said.
"I just try with little and easy wood statues and carvings. I hope to do on a bigger sculpture." — VNS