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Clayflower craft is beginning to bloom

Update: September, 02/2013 - 02:22
Carving a niche: Thuy meticulously works on a clayflower product in her shop on Tran Quang Dieu Street. — VNS Photos Truong Vi

Former journalist Nguyen Thi Huong Thuy traded in her life writing news to pursue her true passion: the Japanese art of making clayflowers. She travelled the country to perfect her trade and has become one of Viet Nam's leading exponents. Thanh Nguyen and An Vu report.

In a charming flower shop on Tran Quang Dieu Street, Nguyen Thi Huong Thuy is buried in her thoughts trying to glue together the petals of a clayflower, fearing they may fall off. This once used to be just a hobby in the past, but now it has become part of her inner being, just like breathing.

Thuy says that the art of making clayflowers originated in Japan over 50 years ago. However, it has only been introduced to Viet Nam recently. Although its name refers to the ground, this kind of flower is not made from ordinary soil or wheat flour. It is created by a special plastic-type compound made from natural ingredients.

Born in 1976 and trained as a journalist at the Academy of Journalism and Communications, she never expected to devote her life to flowers.

At the beginning of 2005, when Thuy first learnt about clayflowers, she found herself bewitched by the lively, spiritually and brilliant ones, as if she was under a magic spell. It was three years later that she decided to live a life differently and clayflowers were her solution.

Having said goodbye to her ten years in journalism, she started a new chapter of her life by studying clayflower making-knowhow.

"That was a time when challenges overlapped challenges. I was just a beginner and the petals were not slender or beautiful like real ones. I had to order special wooden moulds from Thailand, until I could find a trusted source in Japan."

Picture perfect: A clayflower sample of Thuy's ornate orchids.

She says the hardest step when making clayflowers is blending the colours so that it looks real. Next, the colours are put on the petal and the detail is drawn on it. Depending on the colour of each flower, the makers can recreate similar ones. They have the moulds for many kinds of flowers to form the shape, but the artist must be very good for it to look real.

"It takes many stages to make a pot of clayflowers. Firstly, we knead the colour into the soil. Then we put the soil in a sack and roll it in a roller. Depending on the real petals' thickness, I use a mould to form the petals' shape, then stick them together then let them dry under the sun. We colour them continuously, then make the pistil and the bud," she says.

It takes three to four days to finish a pot of flowers and for larger ones, it could take as long as a week, she adds.

Eating and sleeping with clayflowers, Thuy has immersed herself in her experiments and discovering new processes. She has spent a lot of time on her work, sometimes even staying until two in the morning. Typically, a lot of the meticulous work is rather boring, but for Thuy, it is the contrary. "I feel extremely happy when I manage to create the right colour just like a real flower. My fate has been decided and I make clayflowers," Thuy says.

Labour of love: A heart-shaped clayflower sample.

Her trademark is in the hearts of many of her customers and other flower lovers, both in and outside of Viet Nam.

The 37-year-old also focuses on the pot's quality. Besides the other products made in Bat Trang Village, she looks for rare models in Phu Lang Village and some ceramic producers in south Viet Nam to combine with her new clayflowers. The favourite flowers are rose, daisy, orchid and apricot, of both Asian and European styles.

However, the price does not seem worthy of the effort she has put into each product. From only a few hundred thousand to VND2 million, customers are able to own a beautiful pot of clayflower.

"I spend my life making clayflowers and not just for the money. Given that there are many things that money cannot buy, it is my love of art and how I cherish beauty. I think I will hold my own clayflower exhibition not far from now," she smiles. — VNS

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