Bronze artisan reforms ancient industry
|Skilled craft: Le Van Khang in his working corner at his house in a small alley on Hang Khoai Street in Ha Noi's Old Quarter.
by Chung Tu and Bui Tuyet
Le Van Khang is no ordinary bronze casting artisan. The Hanoian craftsman creates traditional bronze reliefs using modern industrial methods, an innovation that helped him earn the title of Meritorious Craftsman, one of 13 artisans nationwide formally recognised by the State in 2010.
His three-story house is located in a small alley on Hang Khoai Street in Ha Noi's Old Quarter, near Hang Dong, a street famous for the production and trade of bronze casts.
The house is like a private museum, full of bronze statutes and other casts created by the artisan himself or collected from trips around the country.
Khang was not born into a family of bronze casters. After graduating from technical college in Ha Noi in 1963, he stayed on to teach metallurgy. "During this time, I discovered my passion for bronze relief," Khang said.
For the next 30 years, he worked in craft villages in northern Viet Nam such as Vo Commune in Bac Ninh Province, Nom Commune in Hung Yen Province and Ngu Xa Commune in Ha Noi.
However, he realised that the traditional techniques, for all their beauty, had many technical shortcomings. So after leaving the craft villages in 1993, Khang tried to combine the skills he had learned with modern industrial methods.
"Even a few kilograms of bronze was expensive, and there were few people buying bronze products at that time," Khang said. "Depending on how intricate the detail, it can take weeks or months to complete a product."
But after starting to sell his works at souvenir shops in Ha Noi, he found himself receiving many orders. "The results far exceeded my expectations," Khang said.
|Souvenir:Khue Van Cac (Pavilion for Literature Discussion), one of the miniatures of famous places in Ha Noi hammered by Khang.
The commissions continued to pile up. In 1999, Khang received an order to produce miniatures of the Temple of Literature and a bronze drum as Vietnamese souvenirs for Heads of States at the Francophone Summit.
His bronze statue of Buddha Kwan Yin won two awards: national prize "Viet Nam Quintessence" and the Indochina Arts Partnership "Golden Hands" award.
At 71, Khang is still passionate about bronze relief. Frequent motifs in his work include the four supernatural creatures (dragon, kylin, tortoise and phoenix) and four precious plants (pine, daisy, bamboo and apricot). He also creates bronze busts of Vietnamese celebrities and heroes such as Tran Hung Dao, the Supreme Commander of Viet Nam during the Tran Dynasty (1225-1400), celebrated poet Nguyen Du and well-known doctor Ton That Tung.
When casting busts, he always tries to illustrate the underlying character of each individual.
"Besides sculptures and other artistic casts, artisans should know about physiognomy to make busts more lively," Khanh said.
He was once commissioned to cast a bronze statue of President Ho Chi Minh, which can now be found at the Government Office of Viet Nam.
The artisan is now working on a series of miniatures of famous places in Ha Noi such as Thap Rua (Tortoise Tower), Khue Van Cac (Pavilion for Literature Discussion) and Chua Mot Cot (One-Pillar Pagoda). The products, intended primarily as souvenirs for foreign visitors to Viet Nam, will be available for purchase after he completes copyright registration.
Khang hopes that his fellow artisans will continue the process of innovation.
"Bronze casting artists in other countries have applied modern technology to their creations to improve their products' beauty and quality. Vietnamese bronze workers now have to open their minds and learn some of these new techniques so that we do not fall behind," Khang said. — VNS