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Model citizen brings Ben Tre history to life

Update: May, 26/2013 - 04:08
Ship-shape replica:Leo introduces the model of a ship that has travelled right the way across Viet Nam during its existence. — File Photos

Determined to ensure tomorrow's youth don't forget Viet Nam's rich history, record breaker Nguyen Van Leo has created hundreds of models including planes, ships and appliances to reflect life in Ben Tre through the ages. Chu Trinh reports.

Nguyen Van Leo from the southern province of Ben Tre's Thoi Thuan Commune has become a local celebrity thanks to his stunning collection of model aircrafts and ships which was mentioned in the 2010 Viet Nam Book of Records.

However, few people know that the 63-year-old artisan's house serves as a veritable time capsule of life in the southern province, featuring models of both past and present household appliances used in the region.

Leo's creations have partially helped visitors to better understand changes seen in the coconut land over the past 60 years.

Born and raised near the coast, as a small boy Leo would accompany his father on far-flung fishing trips. It was the time spent on the open sea that gave him inspiration for his creativity and the unique replicas that followed.

The idea for building the collection of historical items, Leo says, came by chance 20 years ago, when he made a small sampan from jackfruit tree wood for his niece. She was overjoyed with her uncle's creation and Leo realised he may be harbouring a hidden talent.

Soon after, he became absorbed in making many kinds of miniature boats and ships, followed by aircrafts, warships and appliances used in everyday life by the southern people.

Fighting fleet: Miniature models of Viet Nam's naval forces' vessels.
Friends and foes: Not limiting himself to only making domestic ships, artisan Leo has also made models of US warships.

Leo now has over 200 various models, including 50 aircraft and warships, 44 types of river and sea craft, as well as 39 tools used to catch fish and other aquatic species.

He has also created many models representing southern culture, such as T-shaped houses, shelter-pits, rudimentary weapons and traditional toys for children. The two types of wood that he mainly uses are jackfruit and coconut, with the former accounting for 80 per cent of his creations.

Among the many models, Leo is most proud of his "No-number" vessel, which he made by carefully studying images and historical documents both in text and on the internet, as well as consulting Truong Van An, who previously used the vessel to transport weapons from north to south during the anti-American War.

Other impressive items in Leo's collection include models of modern US weapons like the B-52 and B-57 aircraft, tanks and ships. To create such miniatures, he has worked in meticulous detail, copying images museum displays to achieve the desired level of accuracy.

For Leo, preserving his region's unique culture is a big motivating factor in his work.

"I want future generations to understand the war and sacrifices the country went through to achieve peace," he said. "It requires hard work, as I have had to devote my time and career to pursue this goal."

Recently, Leo's models have been hugely popular at exhibitions like the Ben Tre Coconut Festival and Tien Giang Fruit Festival. At the 2010 Can Tho Aquiculture Festival, Leo's model boats drew the attention of the Viet Nam Book of Records for being the biggest ever collection of ship models in the country.

This collection is currently on display at the Tien Giang Province Museum and has proved a big hit with visitors.

One visitor, My Tho City's Tran Duc Vinh was bowled over by the realism of the collection. He said: "I find his artistic works interesting, unique and very lifelike. In order to create such works, the artisan must have a very creative mind and spend lots of time and effort. I particularly like the aircraft and vessels that Leo has made."

Despite his old age and diminishing strength, artisan Leo is still absorbed by the process of creation.

"Each person has their own passion. My biggest passion is enlivening historical items so that the youth of today and future can learn about the life and work of their predecessors," he said. — VNS

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