Vietnam’s Youngest Artisan

After many failures, Nguyen Tran Hiep, who had always wanted to get rich from the traditional craft in his hometown of Tu Son in the northern province of Bac Ninh, finally succeeded when he became the youngest national artisan in Vietnam at the age of 37. Thanks to a drastic renovation and a large investment, his small workshop, Hiep Thang, developed into a large scale fine-art furniture cooperative which has changed the thinking and the old way of practicing the craft of many locals in the region.

From Bankruptcy
In 2000, after eight years of learning the craft of making fine-art furniture from Nguyen Kim, a famous artisan in Bac Ninh, Nguyen Tran Hiep established his own fine-art wood carving workshop, using all of his family’s savings and a loan from Bac Ninh province’s Youth Union. However, due to his ignorance of the market, his goods were not sellable.

At that time, many men in the village who also dreamed of getting rich from the traditional craft but failed and had to quit their craft to earn a living in other ways. However, Hiep was an exception. He did not give up his dream but was determined to follow it. He continued spending years learning and researching the market to find out which markets and development directions were best for his products. Then, Hiep decided to renovate all of types of products with diverse designs and styles to meet the customer’s demands. He divided customers into two main groups, including foreign tourists and traders from China.

National artisan Nguyen Tran Hiep and his work.

Nguyen Tran Hiep’s tools. Photo: Tat Son/VNP
Wood used to create works.

Besides fine arts works, the Hiep Thang fine-art furniture cooperativealso makes wooden portraits.

Creating the shape for a wooden portrait.

For artisan Nguyen Tran Hiep, each work is his spiritual child.

Completing wooden works.

For the tourists, his workshop mainly produces small handicrafts and souvenirs, such as small animals, paintings, tea trays, figurines and rosaries.

For the second group of clients who brought the major source of income for Hiep’s workshop from 2002 to 2010, his workshop makes products to order based on the current sample designs. The cost of these products varies from several tens of millions to billions of dong.

At present, his workshop renamed Hiep Thang Fine arts Cooperative, provides stable jobs for 28 employees with an average income of 4-10 million dong/month.

The path to become Vietnam’s youngest national artisan
Seven years ago, when renovating his products for the second time with a focus on high-class fine art pieces, Hiep became famous nationwide for his wood sculpture called “Echo of Thang Long”, one of the most outstanding works in the celebration of the millennial anniversary of Thang Long-Hanoi.

His works, “Bat long vong quang phat” and “Tieng vong Nham Thin” (Echo from the year of the Dragon) which are now at the Hanoi Museum are highly appreciated by experts and considered the most unique.

For his contributions, Nguyen Tran Hiep was honoured with the title “Gold Hands” by the National Council of Sciences. He ranked second at the national artisans’ contest and was given the title of “National Artisan” at the age of 37 by the Vietnam Jewellery Association.

A wooden Buddhist statue.
Vietnamese hero Tran Quoc Tuan.
Artisan Nguyen Tran Hiep pays muchattention to every detail of works.
A work called“Phu dung Di lac”.

The work entitled“Tu linh tu tam” was made for 6 months.

Define details of the work.

One of his best works is “Bat Long vong quang phat” which originated from the idea of the eight kings of the Ly dynasty incarnating into eight dragons on a five-colour lotus tower. Under the lotus tower is Thuy dinh, a replica temple façade of traditional northern architecture, of the Do Temple in Bac Ninh.

This work, which was made to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union, has been listed in the Vietnamese Record Book in 2011 as the best fine-art sculpture of ideology and art.

Story: Thao Vy Photos: Tat Son & files