Sunday, September 15 2019

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Back to bronze

Update: August, 25/2019 - 08:46

 

 

GROUP EFFORT: Bronze is cast at Trà Đông Village in Thanh Hóa Province. VNA/VNS Photo Quốc Việt

 

Trà Đông Village in Thanh Hóa Province’s Thiệu Hóa District has a long history of traditional bronze casting. After many centuries, the craft survives as evidence for the importance of Việt Nam’s cultural heritage in people’s lives. Đông Hà and Quỳnh Hoa report.

 

Located 12km west from Thanh Hóa City, the craftsmen of Trà Đông Village keep their passion burning by creating unique bronze products, especially items with historical and cultural significance. It’s not merely a question of skill, but of the artisans' mind and soul.

 

Long history

Local legend has it that two men of the Vũ family introduced bronze casting to the village in the 17th century. Other elders argue that the founder of the bronze casting craft is Buddhist monk Khổng Minh Không (1065-1141), who is worshipped at the village’s communal house.

According to historical books, nearly 900 years ago, in Yên Khánh (now Ninh Bình Province), there was a boy who followed Zen Master Giác Không to become a monk at a very young age. With profound knowledge, he travelled to many regions to teach others. When visiting Trà Đông, he taught the villagers how to make moulds for casting bronze. The craft has existed in the village for centuries. During the reign of King Tự Đức (1848-1883), the villagers built a temple to worship him in order to remember his contribution.

In the past, the village produced household items like saucepans, pots, basins and trays. Today the products are more varied in design and function to meet increasing demand. They are divided into three main categories: household items, fine arts and special products for ceremonies and worship.

For all Vietnamese families, worshipping their ancestors has been an integral part of life for many generations. On the family altar, there are often items such as incense burners, candle holders and vases, as well as decorative objects in the shape of holy animals. These can be made from different materials like wood and porcelain. Wealthier families choose bronze for its colour, quality and design. 

Among these handmade products, bronze drums are especially valued thanks to the discovery of the original Đông Sơn drums in the village. The drums are some of the finest examples of metalworking of the Đông Sơn Culture (8th century BC – 1st century AD).

Artisan Nguyễn Bá Châu, general director of the Đông Sơn – Trà Đông Traditional Bronze Casting Co Ltd, who has spent more than 40 years pursuing his ancestors’ trade, is one of the key contributors to the revival and promotion of the craft when cheaper products made from aluminium and stainless steel dominated the local market in the 1990s.

“Bronze casting is not only hard and dangerous work but also requires skill and sophistication to create perfect products,” Châu said.

“The casters have to go through many stages, like choosing clay for the kiln and moulds, setting the fire, and melting the bronze. All these stages have to be done with great care and attention to ensure the quality of products,” he added.

Châu’s workshop employs nearly 20 skilled workers. His products have been sold nationwide and he has received many orders from individuals and organisations. Significantly, he was assigned to cast 1,000 bronze statues of the legendary Âu Cơ Mother during the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) forum in Đà Nẵng in November 2017, as gifts for heads of states from 21 economies worldwide.

Châu has opened six vocational classes, providing training courses to about 300 students. Many of them have gone on to become skilled workers in the village.

His son, Nguyễn Bá Quý, was awarded the title of National Artisan at the age of 31.

Quý, together with artisans Nguyễn Bá Châu, Lê Văn Bẩy, Lê Văn Dương and Đặng Bích Hoàn, have brought fame and honour to their village by making bronzes that have broken national records and become famous throughout the country.

Quý also sets a national record by producing Việt Nam’s biggest hand-crafted bronze drum, while Châu broke the national record for a pair of the biggest bronze statues. The artisans also cast 100 bronze drums of different sizes to celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of Hà Nội in 2010.

Bronze casting does not simply follow a fixed procedure and combines traditional methods. The special feature of the bronze products made in the village is that they are made by hand.

They also have plans to open more workshops to improve design, and concentrate on bronze drums of many sizes for domestic and foreign markets.

 

Strengthen traditional craft

According to Đỗ Đức Thanh, deputy chairman of the Thiệu Trung Commune’s People’s Committee in Thiệu Hóa District, at present Trà Đông Village’s yearly revenue from bronze casting reaches more than VNĐ30 billion (US$1.3 million).

There are more than 130 households in the commune that still maintain the traditional craft of bronze casting, which provides villagers with a stable income.

“Trà Đông Village earned a record when it made Việt Nam’s biggest bronze drum with a weight of 1,840kg,” Thanh said. “It’s a great pride for the village.”

“We are so proud to say that not only our handmade products are famous nationwide, but also that the craft was recognised as a national intangible cultural heritage by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism,” he added.

In the era of industrialisation and modernisation, the traditional craft of Trà Đông Village is sustainable and has been passed down from generation to generation. Incentives for businesses to apply science and technology, diversify designs, and combine traditional features with modern aesthetics, have helped strengthen the craft. It has also helped to revive the art of bronze casting and allow it to prosper for many years.

With careful hands, creative minds and the combination of ancient and modern features, Trà Đông artisans imbue a sense of soul into their products. VNS


GLOSSARY

Located 12km west from Thanh Hóa City, the craftsmen of Trà Đông Village keep their passion burning by creating unique bronze products, especially items with historical and cultural significance.

Located means “situated”.

Craftsmen are people who do skilled work, using their hands.

Significance means “meaning”.

It’s not merely a question of skill, but of the artisans' mind and soul.

Merely means “simply”.

An artisan, like a craftsman, is a person who does skilled work, using his hands.

Local legend has it that two men of the Vũ family introduced bronze casting to the village in the 17th century.

Legends are traditional stories.

Other elders argue that the founder of the bronze casting craft is Buddhist monk Khổng Minh Không (1065-1141), who is worshipped at the village’s communal house.

A founder is someone who starts something.

A monk is a man who has devoted his life to a religious order and lives in its service.

With profound knowledge, he travelled to many regions to teach others.

Profound knowledge is deep knowledge.

When visiting Trà Đông, he taught the villagers how to make moulds for casting bronze.

Moulds are shapes that are used to give shape to things like ornaments, patterns on building and food.

During the reign of King Tự Đức (1848-1883), the villagers built a temple to worship him in order to remember his contribution.

The reign of King Tự Đức is the time he ruled.

A contribution is what someone gives, either in service or in donations.

Today the products are more varied in design and function to meet increasing demand.

If products are varied, they are different from one another.

For all Vietnamese families, worshipping their ancestors has been an integral part of life for many generations.

Your ancestors are your parents, grandparents, great grandparents and so on.

Integral means “important and necessary”

On the family altar, there are often items such as incense burners, candle holders and vases, as well as decorative objects in the shape of holy animals.

An altar is a table used for religious purposes.

Incense is a substance that is burnt to make sweet smells.

Artisan Nguyễn Bá Châu, general director of the Đông Sơn – Trà Đông Traditional Bronze Casting Co Ltd, who has spent more than 40 years pursuing his ancestors’ trade, is one of the key contributors to the revival and promotion of the craft when cheaper products made from aluminium and stainless steel dominated the local market in the 1990s.

To pursue his ancestor’s trade means to be busy doing it.

Revival means “coming to life again”

“Bronze casting is not only hard and dangerous work but also requires skill and sophistication to create perfect products,” Châu said.

Sophistication means being of a high standard.

“The casters have to go through many stages, like choosing clay for the kiln and moulds, setting the fire, and melting the bronze.”

Clay is a type of mud used for making pottery.

A kiln is an oven used to heat clay.

Châu’s workshop employs nearly 20 skilled workers.

To employ someone means to give work to them.

Châu has opened six vocational classes, providing training courses to about 300 students. Many of them have gone on to become skilled workers in the village.

Vocational means “to do with a job”.

Bronze casting does not simply follow a fixed procedure and combines traditional methods. The special feature of the bronze products made in the village is that they are made by hand.

A fixed procedure is a hard set of rules on the way things need to be done.

According to Đỗ Đức Thanh, deputy chairman of the Thiệu Trung Commune’s People’s Committee in Thiệu Hóa District, at present Trà Đông Village’s yearly revenue from bronze casting reaches more than VNĐ30 billion (US$1.3 million).

Revenue is money that is earned.

There are more than 130 households in the commune that still maintain the traditional craft of bronze casting, which provides villagers with a stable income.

A stable income is money earned in a way that is reliable and expected, as a monthly salary is at the end of each month.

“We are so proud to say that not only our handmade products are famous nationwide, but also that the craft was recognised as a national intangible cultural heritage by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism,” he added.

Something that is intangible is not physical and cannot be touched.

In the era of industrialisation and modernisation, the traditional craft of Trà Đông Village is sustainable and has been passed down from generation to generation.

Industrialisation is the time an economy goes through when people work less on farms and more in factories.

Modernisation means becoming modern.

Incentives for businesses to apply science and technology, diversify designs, and combine traditional features with modern aesthetics, have helped strengthen the craft.

Incentives are ideas and rewards to encourage people to perform better.

Aesthetics means attractive looks.

It has also helped to revive the art of bronze casting and allow it to prosper for many years.

To prosper means to do well.

With careful hands, creative minds and the combination of ancient and modern features, Trà Đông artisans imbue a sense of soul into their products.

Creative minds are those that use their imagination a lot.
A combination is a blend, or a mixture.

Imbue means “fill”.

A sense of soul is a spiritual feeling.

WORKSHEET

 

1. Khổng Minh Không’s way of life within the Buddhist religion.

2. A household item mentioned in the article.

3. Something that gives off light and fits in a holder.

4. Nguyễn Bá Quý’s relationship to Nguyễn Bá Châu.

5. The part of the body used by artisans and craftsmen to do their work.

 

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ANSWERS: 1. Monk; 2. Tray; 3. Candle; 4. Son; 5. Hands.

 

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