|On the ball: Retired English teacher Nguyen Thanh Tam shows off the World Cup mascots made from chicken and ostrich eggshells and clay. — VNS Photo Van Dat
by Van Dat
HCM CITY (VNS) — Retired teacher of English Nguyen Thanh Tam, unlike millions of others in Viet Nam, is not a fan of football. But when the World Cup rolls around, or rather erupts in all its splendid and loud glory for an entire month, the connoisseur of art likes to takes advantage.
Lining his 48sq.m apartment on the fourth floor of an old tenement building in HCM City's Go Vap District is a dizzingly large collection of replicas of World Cup mascots made of clay and eggshells.
The former student at a school for gifted students, Petrus Ky High School (now Le Hong Phong High School), once wanted to study art but his mother nixed that idea, and instead he chose to enrol in the Sai Gon National Music and Dramatics School (now HCM City Conservatory of Music), graduating in 1972.
Teaching music was not too lucrative, so he began to study at the HCM City University of Pedagogy while holding down a job, finally graduating with a bachelor's degree in English teaching in 1995.
Now 63, Tam has free time to devote to art, his lifelong love.
This year, he has already spent about three weeks making the official World Cup 2014 mascot, an armadillo figure named Fuleco by the Brazilian organisers.
To date, he has sculpted nine Fulecos, big and small, out of eggshells and clay. He uses paintbrushes, aerosol cans and other tools to apply oil or watercolour to the face and body of his figures.
Besides the mascots, Tam has painted each flag of the 32 countries participating in the World Cup and placed them on a world map. The entire task, made with quail eggs, took about 10 hours.
Sport, however, is not the only subject Tam finds interesting. He sculpts popular figures from animated feature films like Finding Nemo or televised cartoons like The Smurfs, as well pop-culture icons like Hello Kitty and Mickey Mouse.
He especially likes to make characters who shape or attract public opinion, including US President Barack Obama and Australian inspirational speaker Nick Vujicic.
"Now that the world is paying attention to the World Cup, I had to do something," he said.
Always first to spot a trend, Tam said that when Vietnamese developer's Nguyen Ha Dong's mobile game Flappy Bird became a worldwide sensation months ago, he made eggshell sculptures of the pixilated figure.
However, Tam said that he prefers to make sport mascots because they represent vitality and good health, the most important thing in life that can help us realise our dreams.
In his apartment, stored in every nook and cranny, are more than 600 sculptures of different sizes, diverse themes and colours.
Tam said he could make many more, but he is interested in quality, not quantity.
As a teacher of English, Tam said he began making art for classroom use, first using coconut shells and clay for illustrations, then shifting to eggshells.
Now, he uses eggs from a variety of animals, including quails, chicken, ducks, geese, ostriches, tortoises and crocodiles.
He is particularly pleased when people can identify his characters, and he readily admits that he is rather good at painting.
"My wife keeps complaining that I spend too much time on these odd things which give me no income. But my son seems interested, so I've taught him how to sculpt," Tam said. He said that he wants to teach others, at no charge, how to do the same. — VNS