|Meeting of minds: General Vo Nguyen Giap, a frequent subject of sculptors, meets with Hero of Transport Sector Nguyen Thi Suot in Ha Noi in 1966. — VNA/VNS Photo
Inspired by General Vo Nguyen Giap, Vu Kim Thanh retired from teaching to follow her passion for sculpture. Now, she's crafted 100 statues to honour his memory. Mai Quynh and Ha Nguyen report.
Sculptoress Vu Kim Thanh has made 100 bronze statues of Vo Nguyen Giap, in memory of the general.
She plans to sell them and donate the money to help the victims of the Haiyan tropical storm which wreaked havoc in the Philippines' Tacloban city.
Thanh said she spent many sleepless nights thinking that she had to do something to help the victims and to show her respect for the beloved General Giap who had inspired her to change careers from teaching chemistry to becoming a sculptor.
Thanh recalled that in 2006 she was invited to visit Ha Noi for the first time and more importantly, to visit General Giap at Military Hospital 108 when he was lying ill.
"I was very moved to stand near Giap who was so weak that he could not say anything to me but only looked at me with warmth," Thanh said.
Two years later, Thanh was very happy to be invited to visit the General at home in Ha Noi's Hoang Dieu Street.
"A photographer standing near Giap's house insisted that I should allow him to accompany me. He said he was from HCM City and had visited Ha Noi several times, wishing to take a photo of Giap, but had not got an opportunity.
"He said that his great wish was to meet Giap once. I was so impressed that I allowed him, his wife and his two children to go in with me.
"When we met Giap, the photographer suddenly went down on his knees, and said tearfully to the General that he was lucky to meet him and it was like he was meeting President Ho Chi Minh.
"Tears flowed down our faces. Giap came up to him and helped him stand up, saying he could take any photo he liked. We were very moved when Giap asked the photographer's wife to bring her small child to sit next to him and asked her about her daily life and children," Thanh said.
Speaking to Thanh, Giap praised her sculptures for having a soul and for their beauty. Giap said he loved Thanh's works very much.
Impressed by such meetings with Giap and his encouragement, Thanh sculptored many other statues and busts of him from his childhood to old age.
In 2010, a 50cm-high bust of Giap was displayed at the National Fine Arts museum in Ha Noi, attracting thousands of visitors, said Thanh.
|Important figure: Thanh and her statues of General Vo Nguyen Giap. — VNS Photo Mai Quynh
She recalled that a Belgian was so impressed by her works that he bought several of them to gift his friends back home.
Asked why she became a sculptor, Thanh recalled in 2003, she and her husband, Nguyen Sang, were so interested in sculpting that they came to Thong Nhat Hospital to ask famous sculptor To Sanh, who was being treated for heart disease in hospital, to teach them.
"Sanh was very weak. In addition, we were middle-aged: my husband was 47 and I 43. At that time we were government employees in the southern province of Long An.
"When we moved to HCM City, we had to do extra work to earn a living, but not sculpting which we would watch every day."
Thanh said she had known about Sanh through books and TV.
Recognising their passion for sculpting, Sanh agreed to teach them and asked a porter to bring clay, plaster and other required materials for them to practise making sculptures.
Despite suffering from hypertension and heart disease, Sanh came to their house for six days to teach them.
He said, "Both of you have a natural talent for sculpting and, more importantly, you have a good soul to carry out the work."
"We told ourselves to learn well and work hard to be worthy of our teacher's belief that we would become good sculptors in the future," Thanh recalled.
She said her teacher's bright soul inspired her a lot. "I realised that in making sculptures, the most important thing is one's soul and passion."
When Sanh's ailments became worse, the couple had to learn by themselves.
Their 30-square-metre room in HCM City's Su Van Hanh Street in District 10 is home to hundreds of statues of Viet Nam's Heroic Mothers, generals, scientists and artists.
"When making a character's sculpture, I have to read various books to try to reflect his/her soul," Thanh said.
So far, they have held more than 60 exhibitions of their works in Ha Noi and HCM City. These exhibitions have always attracted crowds of art lovers and their colleagues.
Singer Tina Tinh said she loves Thanh's works a lot. "Her bronze work of People's Artist Tran Hieu reflects his true soul on his face and through his smile."
Last month, Thanh and her husband displayed 100 statues of General Giap in HCM City. The money we earned has been donated for the benefit of the storm victims in the Philippines and flood victims in Viet Nam's central region, said Thanh. — VNS