How woodcarving can soothe the spirit
if you turn off of bustling Bui Vien, enter a retro building, and follow a winding staircase, you will find the bright, breezy creative retreat of Tay Tay Workshop. “Tay Tay” means “hands hands”, and hands will be your main tool in this three-hour class focused on woodcarving.
Started by instructors Huong, Buzen and Hung, the idea of Tay Tay was born three months ago, “I hosted homestays and it gave me the chance to talk to a lot of people from around the world. I heard a lot of questions about HCMC, and I realized it’s a destination for history, for the war. As a local, I know the city is so much more than that, so I wanted to do something new for the tourists, we are more than history. Especially activities that work with art,” says Huong. “I did interior design for five years and wanted to release stress by doing handicraft. Any activity that uses hands. So when we met, we started to think about the workshop and try anything we can to think about wood and the culture of hands,” says Buzen. “We thought ‘we use wood every day, why don’t we do that?’”
After speaking with several skilled wood craftsmen, Buzen and Huong met Hung “and he was the perfect guy for us to meet” says Buzen. Hung is young, but has ten years of experience, “It is the traditional work of his family. When he finished his junior year of high school, he stopped studying and followed his uncle to learn it, but after two years he decided studying was still very important and went back to school. After he finished high school, he went to university to study the fine art of wood sculpting. He has been practicing his skill since 13 and he is the youngest in his school and his major and he has the highest skills,” says Huong. “We had the idea but not the skill and it took a long time to find the right guy. We received a lot replies and they said we couldn’t do it in three hours. We started to worry about our crazy idea and then we met Hung. He gave us the the hope for our project and he said yes to our idea and together we completed our dream,” says Buzen.
In the class, students are first taught the basic skills of this style of woodcarving by learning about the tools needed and line cutting techniques before moving onto more difficult designs. “When you come to class we want to introduce traditional sculpture, then we move onto practicing from simple to complicated and we want to follow step-by-step to make sure students feel supported. Our purpose of the class is helping people to learn basic techniques of the sculpture, not to finish the art and forget everything. Then they can do it a home. This is why we encourage them to practice from short lines to long lines to many more challenges. Then they feel very comfortable. Every artwork at our place is unique. Then you care and paint and if they need advice we will teach them how to transform their idea to their artwork more effectively,”says Huong.
Once students have practiced using their mallets and gauges, they select a design of their choice and cut it into a smooth, carefully selected, circular piece of wood. After painting it, their work is complete.
Classes last around three hours, but can go longer if students prefer a more complex design. Classes are capped at five people and are exceptionally personalized. “We want to create a memory,” says Huong.
With a goal of a new kind of tourism for Vietnam, one that values the creativity of the city and the possibility of tourists seeing Saigon from a different perspective, Tay Tay Workshop offers a unique creative experience that allows class goers to check out of the fast paced world outside and into a physical, slow and focused one.
Says Huong, “It is a very ancient technique, it is not unique to Vietnam but it is maybe the first technique of humanity, human kind. The technique has developed year-by-year and nowadays people can do it by machine, but we want to keep the original hand design. The imperfect is your perfection. New life is too easy and too fast, we want people to come to our place and take a breath. Even though the hands are the hardest working part of the body, even though they may not be perfect, they’re yours, it’s your own unique body. Respect your imperfections.”
Classes run every day except Thursday, from 9am-2pm and 4pm-9pm (three to five-hour running time based on level of designs). You can book classes with Tay Tay Workshop on www.facebook.com/TAYTAYworkshop or taytayworkshop.com.
Images by Vy Lam