Culture Culture

17/02/2021 - 09:13

There will be a Huong River Museum

Over the past 30 years, Prof. Dr. Thai Kim Lan has gone out of her way to collect more than 7,000 artifacts fished out of the river bed and cherished the dream of establishing the Huong River (Perfume River) Museum.

Each artifact fished out of the Huong River, for Prof. Dr. Thai Kim Lan, has a immemorial cultural and historical trait.

“Thousands of ceramic artifacts fished out of the Huong River have created a shape, reflected the history of the land. These artifacts will tell the stories about themselves, enabling us to better understand the cultural and historical value of this land,” shared Prof. Dr. of Philosophy Thai Kim Lan, the owner of thousands of artifacts fished out of the Huong River.

In the deep river bed from time immemorial

Making an appointment with us at Thái ancestral temple located on Nguyen Phuc Nguyen Street (Huong Long Ward, Hue City), Prof. Dr. Thai Kim Lan was busy preparing to arrange the artifacts that have been collected with great effort for decades. Stepping past the ancient mossy gate, we saw the large yard with a multitude of ceramic pots that won our admiration.

Outside the ancestral temple lies a large space whose back filled with artifacts fished out of the Huong River such as pots, jars, bowls, cups, jars, plates... Each artifact with a characteristic pattern is ordered row by row on the shelves, overwhelming viewers. She said this is the place to establish the space of the Hương River Museum.

30 years back, while walking with her elder brother, the late painter Thai Nguyen Ba, on Tran Hung Dao Street, she saw many people line up, sell the ceramic and porcelain jars on the sidewalk. After asking, she learnt that all of them were fished out of from the Huong River - the place associated with the childhood of the two siblings. Picking up each item to see, both of them were promptly enchanted.

“I was too surprised and fascinated. Unexpectedly, the Huong River had many artifacts with many historical periods. My passion for ancient artifacts of the Huong River has started since then,” recalled Ms. Lan. And the artifacts were bought by her and her elder brother, now on the sidewalk, now from divers in the Huong River, now from collectors... As yet, she has owned more than 7,000 artifacts.

The huge collection of some 7,000 artifacts fished out of the Huong River by Prof. Dr. Thai Kim Lan during the three decades

Over 30 years of collection, she said that there has been no river with such dense layer of sediment, stretching in both space and time. There are the proofs that the artifacts were from pre-historical times to the Cham Pa period and Dai Viet culture onwards.

Dr. Thai Kim Lan has a firm belief that each artifact usually goes hand in hand with a stage and its owner, so it surely has a soul. “It contains human lifestyle, emotion and creativity. All shape a collective life in society at a given time,” Ms. Lan explained and affirmed that this has made a distinction with other cultures worldwide.

Come here to listen to the Huong River telling stories

Despite nearly 3 decades with the passion for the antiques fished out of the Huong River, embarking on building a museum in the strict sense of the word was carried out only nearly 3 years ago. She decided to locate the museum right at the ancestral temple, turning this place into a cultural space that tells the story of the Huong River. The location of the house is very suitable – with the romantic Huong River flowing through.

"Everyone will contemplate the Huong River first, and then when going inside, viewing the artifacts fished out of the river bed, they will understand and cherish the culture and history bequeathed  from time immemorial,” imagined Mrs. Lan.

In conversation with us, Ms. Lan sometimes expressed regret over the fact that her acquaintances, the late painter Thai Nguyen Ba or researcher Ho Tan Phan, devoted a lifetime to the passion, but their aspiration for building the Perfume River Museum  has yet to come true. All her efforts are seen as a way to realize the unfinished dream of the previous generation.

And on that journey, apart from the artifacts bequeathed by her elder brother, she said that she was fortunately predestined to possess many other artifacts from the family of late researcher Ho Tan Phan.

“I am sure, with the artifacts up to this point, a second story about the heritage of the Huong River will be vividly re-enacted. That is how I express my gratitude to the river and pass the love of Hue heritage culture and Huong River culture to the generations,” said Ms. Lan.

It is not effortless to form a museum; many stages had to be gone through. Notably, the classification and systematization of heritage and artifacts take a lot of time and need a scientific, meticulous and accurate assessment. Dr. Nguyen Anh Thu (Department of Cultural Heritage, Hanoi University of Culture) in charge of this important work said that although it takes long, with the "huge" number of artifacts Prof. Dr. Thai Kim Lan owns, building the Huong River Museum will not run into many difficulties.

Accounting for that, Dr. Anh Thu said all the artifacts have been evident. The thing to do now is to select and display the typical artifacts among them so that the viewers can visualize each stage of the Huong River flow.

“Besides the ceramic path space from the gate leading to the garden, the inside of the main space will be displayed according to 4 groups of artifacts: Tien Sa Huynh - Sa Huynh, Cham Pa, Dai Viet, and foreign pottery (Japan, China ...). I think with such a display, it basically reflects in accordance with the historical flow of Hue ancient capital,” hoped Dr. Anh Thu

According to this expert, that imposing collection contains the foreign ceramics fished out of the Huong River. This shows that the trade is very thriving, and the demand for imported ceramics for Hue aristocracy is enormous.

Prof. Dr Thai Kim Lan and Dr. Nguyen Anh Thu are planning to compile a catalog in many different languages​​to introduce and promote the artifacts of the Huong River Museum. In the future, based on the existent exhibition platform, if possible, the digitalization and virtual museum will be taken into account.

Chairman of the Provincial People's Committee Phan Ngoc Tho said that he knew a lot of people dedicated to researching antiquities fished out of the Huong River bed, Prof. Dr. Thai Kim Lan included. When learning that she will build the Huong River Museum, he was very supportive and hoped that the opening of the museum will create a cultural address, a typical destination of Hue.

“I believe, together with other system of museums, the Huong River Museum of Mrs. Thai Kim Lan will be a lively stopover. In the process, the local authorities will support and enable this museum to become an attraction, an address to publicize Hue,” said Mr. Tho.

The museum named the Huong River is being urgently finalized by the female professor and associates in 2021. This space will become a stopover for those who love Hue heritage and “the Huong River culture”!

Story and photos: Phan Thanh