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In Vietnam, man gives artifacts a second life

In Vietnam, man gives artifacts a second life

Monday, September 25, 2023, 18:42 GMT+7
In Vietnam, man gives artifacts a second life
The artifacts that were repaired by Nguyen Khac Duy. Photo: Chung Thanh Huy / Tuoi Tre

Old artifacts are not only valuable, but also a keepsake for many families. Many people would be extremely sad if an artifact was damaged for some reason. In such cases, they may eventually find their way to an expert like Nguyen Khac Duy.

Ten years ago, the man, now 34, who lives in Sa Dec City in the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap, returned to his hometown after completing his military service and assisted his family business in trading artifacts.

Noticing that the supply of artifacts was dwindling over time, Duy thought of finding solutions to repair damaged items, which would allow his family to sustain their business for a long time to come.

Giving old things a second life

In the early days of trying to repair damaged artifacts, Duy's lack of confidence meant he only fixed his own artifacts for fear of further harming customers’ precious items. 

However, after some time, as the artifacts he repaired became more common, more and more collectors came to ask him to help them mend their damaged pieces.

“To repair broken artifacts requires many phases. The first is mixing the glue to stick on the lost part of the piece," Duy explained.

"Only when the glue has dried can I begin to restore the shape of the lost or broken parts.

"In the next stage, I use a sander and sandpaper to remove the preserved glue and make the glued parts look like the original state.

“In the next step, I cover the attached part with paint and trace the patterns of the lost section.

"In the final stage, a layer of paint is applied to protect the pasted part and make it match the rest of the artifact."

While some people think Duy’s work is easy when they see the artifacts that can be restored to normalcy after a few steps, the man said it is a time-consuming process that requires a lot of attention and patience.

According to him, every single step in repairing a valuable broken artifact is equally important. Mixing the glue, for instance, entails an appropriate amount so that the broken parts stick well to one another and do not fall out easily when physical forces act on them.

It is also necessary to be gentle when brushing with the sandpaper so that the solid parts can be polished smooth and in the best condition.

According to Duy, the step of mixing colors is the most time-consuming, as he has to try to find the color that is most similar to the original. 

The only way is to mix the colors little by little until he has the one that suits his needs. His experience has been that when the paint goes from wet to dry, it can change into a different color and then he has to start all over again.

Depending on the damage to the artifact, Duy would need a day or more to fix it. Each of the old or antique objects has its own interesting story, which always reminds Duy of fond memories.

“There was a customer who brought me a vase dating back to the 19th century that was completely broken. The artifact did not seem to have its original spirit when you looked at it at the time. When I was able to restore it to its original state, I could give it a second life. When they received the repaired artifact later, they thanked me and presented me with many gifts,” Duy recalled.

Duy said he regrets seeing the broken or damaged artifacts, so he often thinks of finding ways to restore them. He is happy that he can make a small contribution to protecting the ever-shrinking world of artifacts by returning them to their original state.

“I am so happy to be able to return the damaged artifact to its initial values, both emotionally and physically. An intact artifact shows its own spirit, which also benefits the owner when it is exchanged or sold,” said Duy.

The artifacts that were repaired by Duy. Photo: Chung Thanh Huy / Tuoi Tre

The artifacts that were repaired by Duy. Photo: Chung Thanh Huy / Tuoi Tre

Promotion of timeless values

Looking at the artifacts repaired by Duy, it is hard to imagine that they were damaged in the past. The way Duy takes care of the ancient artifacts shows a great passion that drives him to do this extremely specialized work.

“I take the damaged objects from the customers and do my job. Then, when I look at them after they have been perfectly mended, I feel like I have overcome another challenge,” he said.

“As you know, no two things are identical. For example, today I have to repair a bowl that is broken in two, and tomorrow a kettle with a shattered spout. It is the customers that make me train myself to cope with the different requirements, so I do not feel bored."

In fact, few people know how many skills an expert like Duy must have to give an antique a second life. As a case in point, chemical knowledge is needed to mix the chemical ingredients in the reshaping and color design phase.

Moreover, such experts must be artistically talented to redraw the lost patterns or details, and they must have archeological understanding to create the 'color of time' which resembles that of the past. All these requirements make the number of experts in this field shrink over time.

“To do this job, you have to be patient, skilled, and esthetic,” Duy said.

“If you do not have any of those, it will be difficult for you to do it. For instance, you have to be patient when waiting for the glue to dry, which I often have to give up because of failure.

“I suffered many failures before I was successful. For example, in the color mixing phase, I never succeeded in combining the color the first time. Instead, I tried many times, adjusting a little each time until I had the color I wanted. Often, I tried almost ten times and failed until I had a color that was most similar to the original."

Duy recounted that local authorities had offered him the opportunity to hold events at his home for visitors, hoping to promote the local tourism industry. 

But the expert admitted that he easily loses concentration when working in front of crowds. Besides, cleaning the artifacts raises so much dust that it may not be good for health. Therefore, Duy has temporarily declined this offer.

However, he still spends time greeting people and explaining what his special job entails to anyone interested. In fact, the pundit also wants to pass on the ancient value that lies in the old items.

“I am always honest in my work. When I took the damaged artifacts from the customers, I told them that I could restore the objects to their original condition, not perfectly, but about 80-90 percent,” Duy said.

“Fortunately, the customers eventually accepted the artifacts I repaired, although the fixed objects may not look like the originals. Besides, I suppose I work in the culture sector, hoping to preserve the old values and convey them to the people of today."

According to him, today’s market for artifacts is quite complicated, so many people refuse to accept the process of mending or repairing.

“Also, sometimes repairing is used to cheat others and turn a damaged antiquity into a valuable one. I always remember to keep my soul pure, light, and enthusiastic in my daily work,” he said.

Refusal to help cheaters

Q.T., a collector of ancient artifacts who lives in Sa Dec City, speaks highly of Duy.

“Duy is an admirable person because he is so honest and says only what he knows," T. said.

"When he repairs a damaged artifact, he only takes the amount of money that corresponds to his work instead of paying attention to the owner and the value of the object."

“He has frankly refused to take orders from people who wanted to make fake items to earn illegal profits."

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Kim Thoa - Chung Thanh Huy / Tuoi Tre News

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