Copper Embossed Paintings
It is difficult to make an ordinary folk painting, but just stop a moment and
consider what it takes to make a copper embossed painting describing folk
subjects. One such skilful artisan is Le Van Phu from Hanoi who has indulged in
the craft for the last 30 years.
Everyday people see him working at a small table, meticulously taking
steps to make a copper embossed work. First, he carefully duplicates a painting
then adds some personal artistry that will convey his feelings and also enhance
the copper additions, all the while preserving the original interpretation of
The next step, and obviously the most difficult, is to turn rough pieces
of copper into an embossed work. For example, to make an embossed painting from
a Dong Ho folk painting titled "A herd of pigs", with the piglets accounting for
10cm2 in area, the most difficult undertaking is how to emboss a mother pig and
her three piglets on a background of grass. Phu has to use a hammer to strike
the copper in such a skilful way so that all the pigs get embossed. With normal
paintings the artist paints in the objects. Here, a light strike can not emboss
the animals, but a strong strike will tear the copper plate, hence damaging the
entire painting. The procedure requires the artisan’s complete focus and
practised swing of the hammer.
Phu's father, Le Van Tuy, was famous throughout the capital of Hanoi
during the 1940s and 1950s for his skilful silver engravings. Since he was 11
years old Phu was interested in following in his father’s footsteps. He would
stay awake long into the night watching his father making the engravings. Seeing
his good quality and interest in the profession, Phu's father sent him to learn
painting from two famous painters of that time, Manh Quynh and Pham Viet Song.
Unfortunately Phu’s studies were interrupted by the US invasion of Vietnam and
Phu joined the army.
In 1984 Phu retired after many years in the army. His half-done dream of
practising the family's traditional craft was again floating in his mind and he
decided to engage into the craft with tireless devotion. To this day, Phu is
known nationwide as the originator of the copper embossed paintings craft.
At the Fine Arts Contest held in 1985, his first exhibit being a set of
four panels depicting the four seasons and only as small as a notebook, was
awarded Prize B (there was no Prize A). At the Third National Exhibition on
Economic-Technical Achievements during 1986-1987, Phu won a gold medal for his
set of two panels, 34cm x 84cm in size, which took him two months to make. In
1988, Phu was bestowed the title of "Artisan in Copper Embossing".
Copper embossed paintings by Le Van Phu are not only famous nationwide,
but also available in the United States and some European countries. Being made
in more than 100 designs, his copper embossed products reflect the creation of
linking the conventionality with realism thus creating a controversial new
palette of the fine arts, hence helping to enrich the Vietnamese traditional