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An artisan molds creation with clay

Update: March, 29/2011 - 20:14

Creative: Le Duc Ha has created numerous statues which he hopes people will enjoy when they visit Quang Nam, his hometown. — File Photo
While dirt doesn't look too attractive at first sight, one artist is using clay to create beautiful sculptures, Luong Thu Huong talks with the artist.

Beside the Thu Bon River, a middle-aged man spends hours every day passionately creating statues from clay until the sun goes down. Surrounding him are beautiful terra-cotta statues of Apsara dancers that seem to be performing a mysterious ancient Cham dance.

His name is Le Duc Ha. He is among the 31 artisans praised in the first Viet Nam Porcelain Festival. In addition to preserving and developing a traditional art in his homeland, Ha is also pursuing an ambitious dream, making portrait statues of famous personalities who have greatly contributed to the country.

A love of terracotta

Ha's workshop is located by Xich Harbour in Quang Nam Province. It is near Phuoc Kieu Village, which is famous for brass casting, and Thanh Liem Village where famous scholars, such as Francisco de Pina and Alexandre de Rhodes, once lived.

As the son of a renowned terracotta artisan, Ha's love for the earth can be traced back to his childhood. He used to love playing with the clay in the fields of his homeland. And to this day, Ha continues his favourite hobby of making tiny terracotta animals, such as deer, tortoises and snakes.

Surprisingly, those tiny animals came to be enjoyed and demanded by those who were interested in rock gardens. "Since then I have totally concentrated on making terracotta statues, indulging in my childhood hobby," Ha says.

By 2000, ten years after he began sculpting with terracotta, Ha had created Cham bricks, which are used to restore the Cham towers in Viet Nam. He says the terracotta he uses is "the children of the Thu Bon River's clay" that was used to build the ancient Tra Kieu Citadel or the magnificent moss-grown Cham towers.

Ha's works, from statues of Cham dancers to children singing songs, are all unique. They are simple but very lively. His decorative terracotta statues vaguely resemble the mysterious Cham towers and have the subtle fragrance of the countryside.

Ha is an expert in using fire to add colour to the clay. He creates his colours through a baking technique and not by using chemicals, enamel or artificial colours. Due to the harmonious combination of fire and clay, Ha's products have impressive and attractive colours.

"I hope that my colourful products, which are made from the elastic clay of my hometown and baked with grass and woods, will become a speciality, a souvenir for anyone who visits Quang Nam," Ha says.

Big ambition

Besides making Cham bricks, Ha is also co-operating with researchers to produce moulds for terracotta statues of the Shiva and Visha Gods and Apsara dancers for the Cham towers.

"The height or the length of the statues can be measured; however, it is nearly impossible to re-create their souls. That is the mystery of Cham's sculpture. The appearance can be duplicated, but not the soul," Ha says.

After more then 20 years as a clay sculptor, Ha says he has done a lot for other people, but now wants to do something for himself – making portrait statues of great personalities. The first was of musician Trinh Cong Son, "whose melodies have consoled me when I'm in despair, or encouraged me to overcome difficulties to enjoy life," he says.

Ha made the Trinh Cong Son statue entirely based on his instincts, as he had no model off of which to base his creation.

"I have to spend years to form a satisfactory shape of the statue. However, my first experiment has broadened my experience for making the next statues of other great personalities," Ha says.

It is not easy in Viet Nam to possess portrait statues of celebrities, but hopefully the inexpensive terracotta statues will allow more people to own them. Ha is planning to produce more moulds, which would then be numbered and authorised for sale by the local authority.

The first statue of Trinh Cong Son has inspired Ha to discover other aspects of his childhood passion. And in turn, his works inspire others to honour the great talents that have contributed to the country's development. — VNS

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