From Refugee to Craftsman: Theresa Nguyen Shows Her Silver Mastery

Ninety-two people piled into a small fishing boat in the dead of night, an escape punishable by death — a risk well worth a lifetime of freedom. On Easter Sunday, after three days of grace — evading government officials and Thai pirates, and surviving the unforgiving sea, the prayers of these Vietnamese were answered. From his oil tanker, Captain Goldsmith spotted and rescued the refugees, setting the course for Theresa Nguyen to become a master silversmith a generation later.

The gold seed in the “Gift of Life” represents the client’s mother giving life to the two twin sisters, the leaves. (Tiptop Photography)
The gold seed in the “Gift of Life” represents the client’s mother giving life to the two twin sisters, the leaves. (Tiptop Photography)

Theresa Nguyen, the daughter of the fishing boat’s skipper, has since crafted silver in ways as impossible as her father’s voyage, often imbuing her creations with as much inner meaning as surface beauty.

“My piece ‘A Fair Wind’ is firstly a way of not only honoring the courage and convictions of my family to find a place where they could practice their Christian faith freely but also to express my gratitude to the generosity of Great Britain,” she says.

“It’s also a prayer for the masses of people who today are also on their own journey to find a ‘better land.’ My prayer is that they will also be taken up by ‘A Fair Wind’ and find places where they are welcome, safe, and where they can flourish and contribute good things to their new land.”

On Easter Sunday, Captain Antony Goldsmith of the oil tanker “Turquoise” spotted the fishing boat of Nguyen’s father in the tumultuous South China Sea. After being denied several times, the captain eventually found a safe haven in the Philippines before they gained residency status in Great Britain. (Quang Khac Nguyen)
On Easter Sunday, Captain Antony Goldsmith of the oil tanker “Turquoise” spotted the fishing boat of Nguyen’s father in the tumultuous South China Sea. After being denied several times, the captain eventually found a safe haven in the Philippines before they gained residency status in Great Britain. (Quang Khac Nguyen)
“The desire to be able to worship freely enabled my family and many others to make the decision to leave everything that they knew and loved behind with the hope of finding a ‘better land,’” says Nguyen. (Photo courtesy of member of the Cornish crew on the Turquoise supertanker)
“The desire to be able to worship freely enabled my family and many others to make the decision to leave everything that they knew and loved behind with the hope of finding a ‘better land,’” says Nguyen. (Photo courtesy of member of the Cornish crew on the Turquoise supertanker)

The silversmith artist says, “The driftwood represents the wooden fishing boat, the sterling silver wire soldered onto silver sheets signifies the turbulent waves of the South China Sea, and finally, 18k gold was incorporated to represent the precious lives that were trying to escape.”

Nguyen so harmoniously blends telling tales of virtue with molding metal, the works of beauty often seem more alive than objects in nature themselves.

“At the heart of what I do, and what makes it so special for me, is the fact that every client in some way has come with an element of faith.”

For “The Gift of Life,” the master silversmith used the heirloom ring of the client’s mother — “a wonderful idea that would preserve the ring forever and serve as a constant reminder of her mother,” says Nguyen. (Theresa Nguyen)
For “The Gift of Life,” the master silversmith used the heirloom ring of the client’s mother — “a wonderful idea that would preserve the ring forever and serve as a constant reminder of her mother,” says Nguyen. (Theresa Nguyen)

For the work “The Gift of Life,” Theresa Nguyen commemorates the client’s mother by using her heirloom wedding band in the design, so the client and her sister could both enjoy the ring together.

“The gold from the mother’s ring was melted into a small seed-like form at the base of the two leaves, which represents the client and her twin sister growing out of the source seed, which represents their mother,” says the virtuoso.

The delicate, detailed fragility and tenderness of the leaves reveal a core source of Nguyen’s creative well.

“The forms, patterns, colors, textures that I see in the world around me, especially in nature, have a profound impact on me and my designs. Just the sheer beauty and marvelous forms in nature are an endless source of inspiration.”

On the top of “Longevity” lies acanthus leaves, symbolizing enduring life and prosperity for her client. (Clarissa Bruce)
On the top of “Longevity” lies acanthus leaves, symbolizing enduring life and prosperity for her client. (Clarissa Bruce)

But the leaves — somehow melded with a nurturing, protective energy — say more than perfect beauty. Like the gratitude and fondness with which she speaks of her valiant ancestors, her art says love, a sentiment carried through to her patrons.

“My hope is that I will be able to design a piece that will even go beyond what they had hoped for, and I believe this can only be achieved by fully putting my heart into every piece”, add Theresa Nguyen.

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