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Painstakingly preserving an old vocation

Update: April, 13/2015 - 08:36
Sacred work: The Vu Lang Village is famous for sculpting wood statues, especially of the Buddha. To make an over-two-metre statue, the worker may need a year to complete. — Photos of

Vu Lang Village residents pay close attention to detail as they carve wooden statues of the Buddha, preserving a traditional craft that has served them well for as long as they can remember, Thu Trang reports.

Located more than 20 kilometres from the centre of Ha Noi, the Vu Lang handicraft village is well-known for sculpting the most famous wooden statues in the northern region.

The village, which is in Dan Hoa Commune, Thanh Oai District, was accorded the title of a typical craft village in 2014 by the Viet Nam Association of Craft Villages.

Visitors can hear the boisterous sounds of chisels and the saw mill from the moment they enter the village.

Nguyen Thi Minh, a cultural official in Dan Hoa Commune, who is responsible for managing the craft village, said Vu Lang had 450 households, and 80 per cent of them were involved in sculpting statues.

"Many elderly people in the village cannot remember when the village started doing this work, they only know that the Vu Lang Pagoda had restored some of the 300 to 400 years-old wooden statues," said Minh.

Contouring: Visitors can hear the sounds of chisels as soon as they enter the village.

The commune now has about 2,000 residents, with 500 skilful workers and more than 10 statue carving workshops.

All the workshop owners are young and earn several hundred million dong every year.

Products and designs created in the village have been diversified and cater to the Vietnamese people's spiritual culture, including horizontal lacquered boards, parallel sentences and altars.

Typical products are Buddha statues.

The products are sold to pagodas, temples and individuals across the country. Some of them are even exported to Japan, South Korea and China.

Nguyen Minh Thuong, 31, who was awarded the title of typical artisan by the Viet Nam Association of Craft Villages last year, said, "The statues are often made of oak and jackfruit wood because the common people consider it holy wood, and which is worth worshipping, he said. Moreover, the wood is soft, easy to be carved, and does not get chapped due to changes in the weather or is attacked by sow bugs.

"Each statue involves an artistic working process," said Thuong.

"There is no mould for the statue, so the artisan uses experiences and an aesthetic sense to change a rough piece of wood into a beautiful and smooth statue," he said.

The artisan also needs to define which wood vein is suitable for bearing the main features of the statue so that the statue becomes livelier.

The wood for statue carving is mostly sourced from the central provinces of Nghe An and Thanh Hoa.

Close watch: Artisans have to pay meticulous attention, because no moulds are used to make the statues.

After bringing the wood to the workshop, the wood's outer layer is removed, and its core is used for sculpturing, he said.

The statue's head and face are sculptured first and then details of the face, including the forehead, nose, mouth and ears. The distance between the two eyes, eyebrows and bridge of the nose must be calculated carefully, he said.

This is especially true for the Buddha statue, whose ears have to be sculpted in great detail.

After roughly sculpting the overall statue, the artisan will then carve every detail on it.

"This is the most important stage of sculpting," said Thuong. The statue is then buffed so that it becomes smooth to touch.

All the statues are then dipped in red lacquer and trimmed with gold and silver. The time taken to complete a statue depends on its size. A statue that is more than two metres in height may need a year to be completed.

Every year, Thuong's workshop makes about 2,000 Buddha statues of different sizes. The workshop has more than 10 workers, who are local residents and each has an income of about VND3 million (US$140) per month.

"The young sculptors in the village can use some modern technology in their work. Now about half of the process has become mechanised, which has helped save labour and improved the working effectiveness," said Thuong.

Information technology was also used to introduce the products to more and more people in and outside the country.

The busy season for the village is from September till the end of the year. During that time, automobiles keep arriving and leaving the village to transport its products to different markets in the country. — VNS

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