Sculptors hone their skills
The area around the Marble Mountains near Ñaø Naüng is famed for stone statues and sculptures, but until recently, production of high-quality work that takes the craft to the level of an art has been held back by a lack of skills among local stone carvers
Nguyeãn Thaønh Töïu has always had an interest in stone sculpture as he grew up in a stonemasons family in Nguõ Haønh Sôn District, 5km east of Ñaø Naüng City.
Töïu, 31, is a third generation of traditional masons from Non Nöôùc Village, at the foot of the Nguõ Haønh (Five Marble) Mountains, which is home to 5,000 people involved in the art.
The Ñaø Naüng-born artist, who attended a four-year sculpture course at the Hueá Fine Arts College, creates sculptures from plaster casts at Ñaø Naüng Sculpture Foundation, a non-profit and nongovernmental organisation founded in 2002.
Töïu and a team of five sculptors make 10 stone works of art for international exhibitions and external features each year, for public parks in Norway and other European countries.
"We receive orders from overseas, mainly from Norway, for various designs, including portraits, gardens, park decorations and monuments from various material such as marble, granite and sandstone. Sculptors bring mock-ups of the works for us to create plaster casts before carving the granite or marble," said Töïu.
"However, carvers at the foundation need more time and more education before they can become sculptors. We still engrave stone to the original copies they give us."
The foundation was started up by Norwegian sculptor Oyvin Storbaekken, after visiting Non Nöôùc Village in 2001, and the Ñaø Naüng sculpture project was funded by the Norwegian government two years later. The project has helped to train 13 local carvers in modern techniques to international standards and to facilitate cultural and technical exchanges in sculpture between Vieät Nam and many other countries between 2003-09.
Phan Quyønh Höông, director of the foundation, said that Norwegian sculptors had opened the door for local carvers to acquire more knowledge about modern techniques.
"Craftsmen from Non Nöôùc Village create stone works using their ancestors' experience and skills. The village's stone craft and art includes mainly simple religious sculptures, statues and garden decorations, but the craftsmen still lack basic knowledge. That's the difference between a mason and a sculptor," said Höông.
"The six-year project basically gives local masons the fundamentals of modern sculpture. It means that they get closer to the sculptors' aspiration and ideal. The foundation hosts around 50 sculptors from European countries, who come to produce work and then place orders for full size replicas."
Traàn Höõu Sôn, who was awarded a six-year training course to study at the foundation, said most of the works are full size and can take the carvers months to finish.
"The Ñaø Naüng-Tolga Friendship stone bridge, 40m long and 10m wide, which was built in Tolga village, 340km north of Oslo, Norway, was the biggest job we have done so far. We had to engrave big blocks of granite at Ñaø Naüng's foundation in two months and the final details and installation took us two more months in Tolga," Sôn recalled.
"The bridge, which marks friendship and co-operation between Ñaø Naüng and Tolga, is accessible to cars and motorbikes. A lot of our stone works are for European parks, but most are in Norway," Sôn said, adding that Norwegian sculptors provided local masons with a feeling for and basic knowledge about sculpture.
Sôn, 30, who begun studying the craft in Non Nöôùc craft village at the age of 19, had a long experience of carving marble blocks into pieces for statues or souvenirs for sale at the village.
"I inherited the trade from my father and grand-father, but I just did simple carving making animals, Buddhist statues or bracelets year after year. My knowledge of sculpture has increased since I took the course, so now I can work alongside foreign sculptors and create huge works of art," he confided.
Nguyeãn Vaên Kim, who has been working with the foundation since 2003, said that taking part in the sculptor’s training course showed him how to create more soulful artwork.
"I have been a skilled worker for 10 years. My family lived from stone engraving trade for decades,
Singaporean sculptor Chong Fahcheong creates a clay model at the Ñaø Naüng