|Pasting on parts: A painting Vu Thi Nguyet Anh made from dried butterfly.
Vu Thi Nguyet Anh's disability hasn't stopped her from pursuing her art. She's working on perfecting her collection of preserved butterflies, spread out in frames against colourful backgrounds. Kim Anh reports.
A garden full of butterflies and a room full of butterfly pictures. This should sum up disabled artisan Vu Thi Nguyet Anh's passion in life.
A room on Tran Phu Road, Bao Loc City, the Central Highland province of Lam Dong, houses Anh's lively, diversified, and colourful collection of butterfly pictures. Anh was awarded the title of artisan in 2013. Thousands of her pictures are displayed or sold in Viet Nam and foreign countries, including the US and Japan.
Patient with a dream
When Anh was small, she would watch her friends move around freely and easily. With her legs paralysed, Anh would sit for hours and watch butterflies flying around cluster of flowers. Soon, she saw herself patiently waiting to catch them so that she could turn them into part of her landscape paintings. Whoever visited her house would be so impressed with her pictures that they would entreat her to sell one to them. However, at that time Anh's pressed butterflies faded and broke easily.
"Our country has hundreds of kinds of beautiful butterflies. Each butterfly is a masterpiece of the nature. Keeping the natural colour of butterflies and putting them in frames, they can be an attractive picture," Anh said.
With such thoughts, Anh went to handicraft villages to study how to use formaldehyde and other chemical substances to prevent butterflies from being moulded and losing colour.
"Some people thought we only took butterflies that we found in nature to make pictures, but, in fact, we raised them. After collecting beautiful butterflies from nature, we find ways to multiply their population and maintain their gene sources," Anh noted.
Anh points out that raising butterflies is not difficult, but careful observation is needed to understand what their favourite food is because food can have a great effect on their development particularly their wing colours. Depending on the different kinds of leaves they eat, butterflies can have different colours.
Anh's garden is not big enough to plant different kinds of trees so she collects leaves from other places to feed butterflies. She also focuses on crossbreeding to create butterflies of diversified colours and patterns.
|Showcasing her work: Vu Thi Nguyet Anh shows off some handmade products. — VNS Photos Kim Anh
Over the past 10 years, Anh created a variety of butterflies from wild butterflies.
"I must keep a close watch on them and wait till they are strong enough and acquire the most beautiful colour so that I can use them to make pictures, otherwise they will fly away. Normally a butterfly flies away within one or two days after it comes out of its cocoon," Anh observed.
The colour of a wild butterfly is not as beautiful as the colour of a raised butterfly because they are not caught at a right moment, she explained.
Thanks to the source of raised butterflies, Anh's pictures are quite cheap: about VND40,000-50,000 (US$1.9-2.3) for a picture with one butterfly and VND200,000-300,000 ($9.5-14) for a picture made from a few butterflies. A collection of some dozens of butterflies can cost some million dong.
Quite a lot of butterfly' wings fall down when they are raised or when their specimen pictures are made. Anh thought it was a great loss to throw them away, so she decided to make the fallen wings part of her pictures.
The making of such pictures is a masterstroke. Anh needs to think of a picture's theme, calculate how many butterfly wings will be needed, and what colour and size they should be. It takes Anh some months, or even a year, to collect enough wings so that she can complete a picture.
First Anh draws the outline of a picture on a piece of material and uses tweezers to pick each butterfly wing and glue it on the material.
Sometimes one wing is enough to give a picture some detail, but sometimes it needs a dozen wings to make a detailed pattern, and thousands of wings to make a complete picture. Anh's pictures are never muddled; they have fine, small details in every shade.
The flowers in Anh's pictures are sometimes more beautiful than real flowers.
Natural colours and the striking beauty of butterfly wings make Anh's pictures extremely attractive. Colours on her pictures stay even after more than 10 years since their making.
Although it is a masterstroke, the price of each picture is not expensive, only VND500,000-1 million ($23-47) for one. A made-to-order picture can cost VND10 million ($470).
After seeing Anh's pictures, Nguyen Thi Thuy Duong, 29, a correspondent in Ha Noi, gave up her job with a magazine to go to Bao Loc City and help Anh make pictures from butterfly wings.
"Anh's pictures are unique but she has not had enough opportunities to develop her career. I want to help her find a larger market for her pictures," said Duong.
Duong will soon help Anh coordinate with a Singaporean enterprise, which will export her pictures to some Asian countries. — VNS