Craftsman Huỳnh Ri from Kim Bồng carpentry village creates a Buddha statue from timber
At the age of 80, craftsman Huỳnh Ri in Kim Bồng carpentry village, in Hội An City, still creates unique wooden carvings and souvenirs at his family workshop.Ri is one of the oldest craftsmen still maintaining the trade in the village founded in the 15th century. Ri fears that the village’s traditional craft will disappear in the next few years because few young people wish to learn the craft.
A boy practises wood sculpture at a carpentry workshop in Kim Bồng Village of Hội An ancient town. The village still preserves the centuries-old trade.
He was the first and the only man from the village to gain artisan recognition in 1984 and has helped train about 100 local young people since 1997 with funding from UNESCO to preserve the trade.
A boy practises wood sculpture at a carpentry workshop in Kim Bồng Village of Hội An ancient town.
However, young people gravitate towards more profitable jobs in the tourism sector in Hội An, while the craft takes at least three years to learn and then a couple of years practising to become skilled.
“It’s a hard job. Carpentry requires skill and patience from learners as well as practising for years. We can’t persuade young people to learn our skills because they want a stable future,” he explained.
The number of carpenters has declined 30 per cent in the last two decades, and only 100 carpenters and carvers are still active.
Nguyễn Tấn Nguyên, Ri’s 30-year-old grandson, has worked at the family workshop as one of the main carvers in the village since 2009.
Nguyên doesn’t focus on woodwork for houses but on skilful sculpture.
Ri’s son Huỳnh Sướng, 51, manages two workshops at the village that make furniture for export and souvenirs for tourists.
“We export furniture to Australia, France, the UK and the US, but souvenir designs are still limited to Buddha statues, dragons, unicorns, tortoises and phoenixes,” Sướng explained.
Sướng said his workshop received support from the UN culture agency in 2012-13 to promote the production and design with wood arts and crafts.
However, local craftsmen still struggled to advertise their products in connection with hotels, restaurants and resorts.
Buddha wooden and sculpture works
Booming tourism in Hội An in the late 1990s helped promote craft village tours to suburban areas including Thanh Hà pottery village, vegetable gardens in Trà Quế Village and Cẩm Kim carpentry village.
Tourists were drawn to the rural lifestyle and tranquil scenery of villages just a score of minutes bike ride from Hội An.
However, a larger mass tourism boom and poor management in the late 2000s created chaos and property speculation in suburban Hội An.
“Villagers gradually left their homeland for the money from land speculators. They (farmers) could hardly earn big amounts from crafts to support their children’s education. The land speculators built multi-storey shopping areas and hotels in village centres,” he explained.
“An urban population and lifestyle temporarily settled in the village, not for living, but for profit. That’s why the village has struggled to lure tourists due to the faded rural lifestyle and craft activities,” he added.
Artisan Ri said the village was busy with carpentry in the past, but few households have preserved the trade.
“The village needs a carpentry work demonstration centre to draw tourists, while typical wooden houses from the 15th century must be restored,” Ri suggested.