Amateur collector wows the world

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Vietnam's first private museum houses a priceless collection of Champa pottery dating back as far as the 11th century.

Nguyen Vinh Hao, popularly known as Hao Go Sanh, has been scavenging for Go Sanh pottery for decades and is now famous among antiquarians for his impressive collection of the stunning Champa antiques and the museum that houses them.

"After marrying the Champa king, and this was back in the early fourteenth century, Princess Huyen Tran of Vietnam gave the name 'Vinh Hao' to the Eamu hot springs (in Binh Thuan Province) as her way of wishing for amity between the two nations.

"In 1959, my father fetched water from the spring to cure a cholera epidemic that was ravaging Quy Nhon. He named me Vinh Hao after the spring," Hao said, explaining why he also had the nickname "Hao Eamu."

He has traveled far and wide in search of Go Sanh pottery, which was only produced in the area now taken up by Binh Dinh Province on the central coast. The Cham people made Go Sanh pottery from the 11th-14th centuries and the Vietnamese continued to perfect it until the 18th century.

Hao's merchant father, Nguyen Huot, was a passionate collector of antiques.

Often when he stopped at villages along the river, Huot would swap his merchandise for antiques.

He learned of Go Sanh pottery when he opened his own pottery workshop in 1958.

Sixteen years later, in 1974, heavy bombing around Go Sanh uncovered a treasure trove of old artifacts. The discovery was headline news but war disrupted the story.

As a child, Hao would ask himself why his father was so passionate about collecting old things.

But the more he grew, the more he was mesmerized by his father's Go Sanh collection.

Since Hao turned his house into a showcase of Go Sanh and Vijaya pottery, Vietnam's first private museum has been recognized by the state as one of only two antique museums in the country, and the only Cham pottery museum in the world.

The museum, at 175 Le Hong Phong Street, has made Quy Nhon a must-see for visitors to Binh Dinh and has been graced by respected scholars and collectors from around the country and abroad.

It houses some 2,300 pieces of Go Sanh pottery, many of them priceless.

Hao has grouped the exhibits according to whether they were objects of worship or veneration, items only used by royalty, export pottery or household wares.

Among his prized possessions are a Dravapala terra cotta statue dating back to the 12th century and a one-meter terra cotta statue of a goddess.

"I set up this museum to showcase the sparkling Go Sanh antique pottery, a cultural heritage of Binh Dinh Province. I believe that objects of immense cultural value should be popularized," Hao said.

Professor Hoang Dao Kinh, vice chairman of the Vietnam Architects Association, is impressed with the man and his collection.

"What I admire in Hao is that, though he hasn't had any professional training in art or archeology, he has gone to great lengths to collect and preserve these artifacts of a fading craft," Kinh said.

The museum is holding a special exhibition of 100 Go Sanh antique pottery items from the 13th-15th centuries, in collaboration with Da Nang's Museum of Cham Sculpture.

The exhibits, lasting until April 5, include several of Hao's treasured pieces like an enamel plate decorated with a five-clawed dragon and only used by royalty.

"The plate is special because dragons usually have three claws," Hao explained.

"According to the collector Tran Dinh Son and Nguyen Dinh Chien of the Hanoi Historical Museum, the plate was a gift from the Chinese Emperor Qianlong (who ruled from 1735-1796) to Vietnam's Emperor Quang Trung, who ruled from 1788-1792."

Also on display is a gold linga for worshipping the gods atop a silver Yoni base, all of it studded with precious stones.

"As far as I know, it is unique in the world," Hao said.

"I spotted it at a jewelry store in Quy Nhon in 2006. It had been thrown out by a junk shop in Phu Cat (in Binh Dinh)."

Hao has an original idea for a performance exhibition in different parts of Hanoi for "Binh Dinh Culture Week" next year.

The details are complicated but the Binh Dinh Province People's Committee has approved the idea and promised to help.

Besides getting ready for Hanoi, Hao is compiling a book on Go Sanh pottery and working with Vietnam Television on a documentary about the object of his passion.

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