Handfuls of blossoms

22/07/2019 09:23

In under 15 seconds, a snip of scissors turns an inanimate piece of fabric into the leaf of a chrysanthemum. Some shaping and coloring transform a piece of white silk into pink lotus petals that touch your soul… These movements are performed by the skillful hands of silk flower artisan Mai Hanh.

While she is best known for her silk lotus blooms, Mai Hanh is most passionate about satin orchids. She recounts the story of how she fell in love with this art. Evacuated from the city with her mother, she was hit in the leg by a bomb fragment. The wound became so infected that she was bedridden for nearly six months. To help her overcome the boredom of endless days in bed, Mai Hanh's mother taught her to make silk flowers. These were her first products. Her love of silk flowers has bloomed ever since. When this passion began to grow in her, the first species of flower that the-13-year old girl wanted to make was an orchid. To understand the flower inside and out, little Mai Hanh was content to spend her whole day or even weeks picking apart each petal and observing every small detail of a real-life orchid, from the stem, the leaves, the colors and the size of the stamens to the height of the buds, in order produce the most life-like imitations. Her final products are so realistic that they make one look twice, as there are  blooming buds among withering orchids…

As a perfectionist, Mai Hanh does not tolerate defective products, or even the tiniest error in color. She rejected some batches of orchids because either the flowers or the buds were “soulless” post-coloring. Although she had spent an entire month on their creation, she was willing to start again from scratch.

It is worth noting that most artificial lotus, rose, chrysanthemum, dahlia, and peach blossoms handcrafted by artisan Mai Hanh are made of Van Phuc silk from Ha Dong. Nonetheless, silk selection is only the first step, followed by spreading glue on the silk, cutting out the petals, mixing colors, and so on, in order to produce vivid hand-made silk blossoms. Speaking of handicrafts and mechanization, she recalled attending a folk craft exhibition of 12 Asian countries held in Fukuoka (Japan) in 1988. While artisans from other countries used pressing machines, capable of producing 20 identical petals per press, she used only a pair of scissors and Ha Dong silk. “I was trembling with fear that my work could not rival that of the machines,” she said. However, after a few minutes "in shock”, she regained her composure and did what she always did. She was surprised that her work was the most well-received, and that Vietnam's silk flowers were highly praised and applauded. At that moment, she was filled with happiness and pride. On that same trip, the Emperor of Japan presented her with a certificate of merit. She also went on to perform in France, where locals marveled at her creative work making silk flowers. A French mayor came to watch her perform twice. He brought his wife and children to her kiosk as they longed to watch her produce silk blossoms.

Mai Hanh received the title of Artisan at age 35. She has now spent over 60 years pursuing this craft and has created thousands of different types of silk flowers. Yet this artisan has never turned to mass-production. “Silk flowers are artificial but if the artisan does not infuse them with soul, they are nothing but cold, soulless bunches of fabric,” she said. For this reason, Mai Hanh’s flowers are even scented – a fascinating fact unknown to most. “To make silk flowers come alive, one must be an artist. But to make the flowers emit their fragrance, their owners must also have soul. After being assembled, silk flowers still appear rather insipid. They only look their best after two to three years of display, by when they have proven their color durability and been imbued with the soul of their owners," said Mai Hanh. This may  be the secret to the lasting popularity of Mai Hanh’s blossoms among local and international admirers of silk flowers.

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