Tribute to Binh Pho
On August 23, 2017 the world lost an incredible artist, visionary, friend and survivor.
The word survivor seems inappropriate since it was cancer that took his life so quickly, but his life story as a teenager is also one of survival. He was featured in the Academy Award Nominated Last Days in Vietnam documentary by Rory Kennedy. As a teenage student, Binh watched the last American helicopter leave Saigon without him. He was captured and tortured by Communist North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong. But in time he did escape and found his way to America. Once here he married, completed a degree, started a family and became an American legend.
Years ago, Binh shared a special story with me about how he got his start in woodworking. In the late 1980’s his wife bought him a new table saw as an anniversary present. He really didn’t do much woodworking at the time so he decided to take a workshop. His very first woodworking workshop was with me at the Odeum in Chicago. Yep, I can take full credit for Binhs success…actually that’s not true. That same weekend he also attended a workshop with John Jordan. So the only success I can claim is that Binh chose not to go into woodworking thanks to me but rather woodturning thanks to John Jordan. The rest is history.
On May 6, 2017 the school had a special event, which Binh attended. As the event came to an end he gave me a hug and told me how proud he was of me and the school and his association with MASW. Sometimes you never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory.
BINH PHO was born in Vietnam, was a critically acclaimed artist, known for an expansive approach to work in wood and woodturning that included surface embellishment and a unique exploration of positive and negative space.
The works featured a highly personal iconography, with imagery that related to Asian culture and the natural world. The story of his journey from an idyllic childhood in Vietnam, the rise of Communism and his escape to the United States was shared in the book River of Destiny: The Life and Work of Binh Pho, published in 2006, in conjunction with a retrospective of his work at the Long Beach Museum of Art. In 2013 he collaborated and narrated the story in their new publication Shadow of the Turning. Binh Pho was in demand as a lecturer and demonstrator and his work is exhibited internationally and in the permanent collection of numerous museums including The White House Collection, Washington DC; The Renwick Gallery Smithsonian of American Art; Museum of Art and Design, NY; University of Michigan Museum of Art; Long Beach Fine Art Museum; and the private collections of Hillary R. Clinton.