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Craftsman in Hoi An transforms bamboo roots into works of art

Former steer hawker Huynh Phuong Do breathes life into harsh, inert bamboo roots.

Many people refer the artist Huynh Phuong Do as "Do bamboo" or "toothless artisan" (50 years old, Hoi An city, Quang Nam province). Thousands of one-of-a-kind pieces have been created by this artist's gifted hands over the course of 20 years, helping to draw a large number of tourists to Hoi An.

‘Toothless artisan’

Artisan Huynh Phuong Do.

Mr. Do had to go through many ups and downs in order to be as successful as he is now. Mr. Do was schooled by his parents to be a woodcarver from an early age, with the goal to have a career to earn a livelihood.

However, the revenue was insufficient to support him; at one point, he had to pedal a bike to sell banh chung and boiled maize to make ends meet. Mr. Do's life did not improve once he married; he had to work hard at a variety of occupations.

When Hoi An faced a huge flood in 2002, it was a watershed moment in his life. As the water receded, an unfathomable amount of bamboo roots from upstream rushed in. Mr. Do was intrigued by the dispersed bamboo with all kinds of unusual forms and took them back to his home.

The unsightly bamboo roots in his hands grew more alive as they were chiseled and hewn. Making a career as a carpenter was too tough at the time, so he considered sculpting bamboo to sell.

"Many people believe I'm insane for doing such strange things, but the pressure to make a livelihood was so intense that I took chances. Fortunately, someone inquired about purchasing, and the news quickly went far and wide, resulting in a torrent of orders. My life has changed for the better as a result of the profession of sculpting bamboo sculptures; I now have a job and have helped the creation of a unique souvenir product in the town,” Mr. Do said.

In his 20 years of dealing with bamboo, he has never encountered a root comparable to another. Each of his sculptures has its own distinct personality.

Time-consuming procedure 

Making a handcrafted bamboo sculpture is a time-consuming and labor-intensive procedure. Mr. Do must search for and purchase old bamboo roots in a variety of locations. Bamboo roots in clay soils are robust and short, while bamboo roots in sandy soils are long and thorny. After being dug out, the bamboo roots are separated, shaped and submerged in mud for nine months before being lifted up, washed and dried in the sun for around 10 days to harden and to rid the bamboo roots of termites.

Photo: Dan Tri

Le Ha


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