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A Hanoi artist transforms flowers into enduring artworks

Stepping into the little room of Mr. Nguyen Ba Muu is a revelation. Thanks to his skill, even the most insignificant types of plants, vegetables and flowers are transformed into works of art. Now in his eighties, Mr. Muu creates incredible artworks out of dried flowers. The diverse colors and styles of his creations stand out from foreign products, having a truly Vietnamese soul. He is the only artisan in Vietnam who works with flowers to have been nominated for the title of People’s Artisan.

Nearly 50 years ago, Mr. Muu’s office sent him to collect flowers for export to Japan. With a great passion for plants, he studied how to preserve and dye them. Over the years he became a master of this new art form. The key challenge of crafting dried flowers is not the drying or shaping, but ensuring that all nutrients are extracted from the leaves and trunks. A complicated preservation process ensures that the final products don’t go moldy. Once the parts are properly preserved, Mr. Muu joins the flowers and leaves together to create blossoms that are immune to decay.

He creates European-style arrangements for Valentines’ Day, weddings or birthdays and simple but elegant Japanese-style floral arrangements. Mr. Muu works with locally-available species such as orchids, strelitzias, chrysanthemums, roses, Rangoon creepers and hydrangea. He even uses reeds and bamboo flowers. Cabbages are shaped into exotic blooms. Even tough and hard eucalyptus fruits are featured. He soaks and peels them before removing their sharp outer petals to form beautiful flowers.

Having experimented with different techniques and designs for almost half a century, Mr. Muu’s knowledge is unrivaled. Arrangements fashioned by him and his students have been featured in various international exhibitions and exported to many countries.

As well as being used for floral arrangements, his dried flowers are used to create pictures. The petals are used to make colorful landscapes including Hanoi Old Quarter scenes inspired by the works of Bui Xuan Phai and rural landscapes. Fashioned from once-living plants, these unique artworks appear full of life.