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Art comes out of its shell in the classroom

Update: May, 25/2014 - 18:02

What's the crack? Tam's lively egg shell figurines, which he uses as illustrations for each lesson, help his students remember what they learn. — VNS Photos Dang Kim Phuong

by Duong Kim Thoa

What would you do with an egg shell? To teacher Nguyen Thanh Tam from Ho Chi Minh City, egg shell is a material with which he creates artworks.

With only a small pair of scissors, half a lime to erase the colour of the egg, and a bit of nail lacquer in appropriate colours, Tam can magically turn an egg shell into a cute beetle, adding another item to his collection of unique creations.

Over ten years ago, Tam stopped working for a foreign company to start offering English language classes at home.

His love for his students and ambition to raise their interest in learning English encouraged him to conceive of many lively teaching aids. After many trials using different materials, he recalled a time when he had made a gift out of an egg shell and presented it to his girlfriend when he was quite young. He decided to take this childhood idea further.

Tam began by creating a Santa Claus using egg shells for the next Christmas season. His first creation unexpectedly gained great praise and interest from his students, which motivated him to create other products such as the Earth God, God of Wealth and Kitchen God. After finding success with these products, Tam continued to flesh out his collection of animal figurines. These early experiments with egg shell made him confident that he could depict anything he wanted.

Tam's students range from first to twelfth graders. He constantly seeks to upgrade his students' knowledge of culture and sports. To do this, Tam creates characters that are relevant to each lesson. Over time, his collection of egg-shell creations grew to 6,000 items and are proudly displayed throughout his tiny flat.

His unique collection helped him earn the title of "The person who created the most items from egg shell" in Viet Nam's Record Book in 2010.

Instead of using dangerous chemicals that might harm the children's health, he uses lemon squash to whiten the egg shells. Half a lime can be applied to five quail egg shells.

According to Tam, quail egg shells are the easiest to work with in creating characters because of its elasticity and softness. Duck egg shells also have an elastic inner layer. The most difficult material is the chicken egg shell because it tends to be hard and brittle. Meanwhile, creating characters with ostrich egg shells, which appear much bigger and more expensive, is actually very easy, requiring only a bit of sawing and drilling.

At first, Tam would apply a primitive method to retain the original shape of the shell, that is, using a chopstick to smash it, before using scissors to cut and pierce it. Now he uses a different method, drilling a small hole into the top and bottom of the egg. When he blows into one hole, the yolk comes out of the other, leaving the shell in its original shape.

After this, Tam skillfully uses a pair of scissors to create the character he wants. The most interesting part, he says, is deciding whether the quail, chicken or ostrich egg shell is best suited to the character. Years of pursuing his interest has helped Tam become an expert, so he can easily select an appropriate shell for his piece of art.

Delicate art: A cat made from egg shells

The students are very happy to attend Tam's class, where they can not only observe the lively and pretty teaching aids but also enjoy the delicious egg dishes cooked by their teacher. After each lesson, they also have the opportunity to see interesting artworks made from egg shells such as the figurines of US President Obama, Charlie Chaplin, Cat Kitty or the robot cat Doraemon.

Each figurine takes Tam several hours to complete and is accompanied by interesting and educational stories such as "Ride the horse back in success" or "The colony of beetles go out" to speak to the students.

Nearly a year ago, Tam submitted an application for recognition as an Asian record breaker for his collection of egg shell figurine. In March 2014, he submitted another one and is still awaiting the verdict. If he is successful, he intends to apply for the world record.

Tam confidently says that not many people in the world are following the same interest. Some have carved egg shells, and others have createdornamental statues like his, but even then, the number of characters in their collection is limited and is not as lively as his own collection. To date, Tam has only used methods that he invented.

Yolking around: An egg shell figurine of comedian Charlie Chaplin.

With greater plans for the future, he intends to focus on creating replicas of the cultural symbols of many nations such as the Sydney Opera House in Australia and the Lion of Singapore or famous figures such as Bill Gates or Obama.

More importantly, he is also working on the creation of masks for characters that appear in ancient Vietnamese classical dramas. Tam says that many artists have shared his idea by using many different materials for their creations, but he thinks that they have not been as successful in creating unique Vietnamese characters - a task to which he intends to dedicate the rest of his life.

Today, Tam is more interested in finding ways to develop his skill commercially and pass it on to future generations. An art form, no matter how interesting it is, will die prematurely if its popularity is not stimulated by market demand.

Therefore, to realise his dream of developing this art form commercially, he intends to teach his methods to others. A class, with students ranging from seven to 77-year-olds, has already been planned to open in his house this summer.

Such a class may have never been held anywhere in the world. If everything goes as planned, Tam will become a pioneer in this field. He strongly hopes to receive more cooperation and support from both Vietnamese and foreign cultural experts so that this art form will be popularised widely. — VNS

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