Vietnamese Artist Turns Recycled Timber into Intricate Mosaics

Nguyen Van Vien is a talented artist who collects all kinds of discarded piece of timber and uses them to create incredibly beautiful wooden mosaics.

The Vietnamese village of Khuc Toai has long been famous for its traditional carpentry, but a local artist is taking things to a whole new level with his original painting-like mosaics made from various types of recycled wood. Born in 1957, Nguyen Van Vien has always had a passion for the arts, and at age 19 he left his home village to study at the Indochina College of Fine Arts, in Hanoi. But it was a very difficult period for the Vietnamese, so after just two years of school, he had to return home and support his family. He turned to traditional carpentry, which barely earned him enough to put food on the table, but everything was about to change for the better.

One day, as he was looking for material, down by the river, he noticed some tree roots drifting by and decided to take them home and try to recycle them somehow. After taking off the outer layer he noticed the colorful timber underneath and started cutting them into small pieces and arranging them by color groups and shades. That’s when he was struck by the idea of using them into mosaics, especially since using discarded roots would have cut his material costs to a minimum.

Nguyen Van Vien and his brother started gathering floating tree roots, and even hired some locals to help dig them up, but actually turning this seemingly useless wood into artworks was a lot harder in practice than in theory. It required great skill, originality and practice, but the artist spent day and night cutting the pieces by hand and sewing them until they came to life as beautiful wooden mosaics that would soon earn him the success he deserved. Although he used a little paint here and there, for special effects, most of the colors in his mosaics are from the natural roots.

At first, he created simple images and local scenery, but as more and more skilled carpenters from his village praised his work, he began creating sophisticated artworks that look more like traditional paintings, that mosaics made with recycled wood. As time went by, word of his unique creations spread around Vietnam, and he soon won various medals and the title of Artisan with Golden Hands. Some of his peers even refer to him as “the father of mosaic paintings.”

Now the owner of his own woodcraft company, which ships unique wooden mosaics around the world, Nguyen Van Vien looks back at his humble beginnings, and says it was all possible because he found a use for something other people only used to fire up their stove – “”I collect timber that other carpenters think is waste or rubbish. To me, it is valuable.”

Photos courtesy of VNP

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