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Carving a niche as a master craftsman

Update: March, 17/2013 - 09:10

Animal instincts: Starting with simple animals, like birds and fishes, Diep later turned to making more complicated statues like tigers and crocodiles. — VNS file photos

by Tuan Kiet and An Vu

Each piece of wood has soul and heart, said Vu Van Diep, owner of the Oanh Diep Fine Arts Woodworking Company.

"Inside it is a masterpiece that tells the story of nation's culture," he said.

Born in Dong Giao Village, a 100-year-old craft village in the northern province of Hai Duong's Cam Giang District, Diep is one of nine generations of a woodworker clan and gained a love for wood from an early age.

Having mastered the woodmaking technique by age 15, Diep considered it a part of his flesh and blood. Yet, difficulty spares no-one. His village failed to be competitive with rival Dong Ky in Bac Ninh, then powerful woodworking enclaves nearby.

Diep decided to leave his home to seek an internship in Dong Ky Village, where he worked as an apprentice at a small private wood furniture company until he had money to buy wood for himself to make domestic furniture.

Artist at work: Having mastered the woodmaking technique by age 15, Diep considered it a part of his flesh and blood.

In 1993, he travelled south to open a product showroom. However, in 1996, business was not good and he returned home to make domestic furniture for local households. He soon came to realise that making furniture alone was hard work, was poorly paid and led nowhere.

It was about this time that Diep came to a turning point in his life. While he was seeking new material, he came across some lumpy and unusually shaped pieces of wood. After days of pondering, he finally found ways to turn them into pieces of art.

He started with sculpturing simple animals, like birds and fishes, until he got more skills, and then he turned to making sophisticated statues. Fortunately, the more he made, the more he sold.

"Each piece of wood is a unique masterpiece in itself, and each carving is an invaluable treasure," Diep said.

"However, to elevate the beauty of a product, one must know how to combine nature and human creativity. In my opinion, it is necessary to learn which part needs an external force and which part does not. A piece of artwork not only honours nature's beauty but also says something about its creator.

"For me, I feel very happy seeing my work receiving appreciation," Diep said.

Horned technique: A goat statue crafted by Diep.

The beauty in every work of Diep's is the beauty of nature itself, crystalised from a mutli-character form. However, few people understand that to create these works takes lots of time.

One of Diep's outstanding creations is Vinh Quy Bai To (A graduate returns home to his family), which depicts a village in relief, with a thistle in the front and a woman and an old lady, running to greet their beloved husband and son, who has become a mandarin, returning home with his entourage. On the two sides are the harzadous mountains, representing death for anyone who crosses them.

"I guess the landscape not only tells of the long distance between the imperial city and the home country of the main character but also emphasises the merit of his parents, from whom he gained an upbringing.

"I wanted to deliver a message through the statue, that no matter where Vietnamese people are, they will always remember their birthplace and home country. Two skilled workers and I spent four months to finish it. It has a price of VND520 million ($24, 850)," he said.

Pointing to another work, Phuc Nhu Dong Hai (Happiness as large as the East Sea water), which shows a child on the back of a fish, lying on the shoulder of the Maitreya (the Laughing Buddha), who has a money sack in his hand. It represents power and long life, Diep said. The work is priced at VND180 million ($8,600).

But Diep does not want to be just a craftsman. He is also a man of vision. Since 2007, when Na Hang Lake was opened in the mountainous district of Tuyen Quang, Diep went there to find material for his work. He came across more than 200 tonnes of tree roots, with distinctive shapes, which would be used for crafting within 10 years.

"This material is very rare and special, Diep said. "In woodworking, the main language of wood is pattern and sculpture line. Although the pattern is very small, it is the soul of the whole product. Therefore, these details needed to be taken good care of."

Besides good material, Diep needs good workers. It's taken him many years to find them. With novices, he would take them in if he found they had potential. With skilled sculptors, he would have to do more to keep them by his side.

At present, his factory covers an area of more than 7,000sq.m, and has 100 skilled workers. Each product is priced at hundred of millions dong. And still, people rush to his retail outlet every day, attracted by his reputation.

"My work helps people know more about Mother Nature and they learn to love and cherish her beauty." — VNS

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