MANDALAY – Veteran designer U Aye Myint died at his home in Amarapura, Mandalay Region on Tuesday evening after suffering from heart disease for many years. He was 87.
“He was sick because of his poor heart, and it was like he could not stand it anymore,” a member of his family told The Irrawaddy.
Born in 1930, U Aye Myint took an early interest in the floral patterns carved into wooden buildings in the ancient capital of Innwa in Mandalay Region and in Sagaing Region and was inspired to become skilled in traditional Myanmar design.
He learnt his craft from veteran Myanmar artists including U Kywe Lay and U Khin Maung (Bank) and began his career in 1954.
In 1970 he was asked by military junta leader Gen. Ne Win to travel to Japan, Germany, and Britain to learn the art and technology of designing currency.
Working at Wazi in Magwe Region, he designed Myanmar currency notes and coins—which were printed with help from German technologies—as well as lottery tickets and stamps.
His designs for the five and 10 kyat notes became famous among the people, especially as they featured the face of independence hero Gen. Aung San.
After a number of years, however, he was forced to retire as Myanmar’s ruling generals became suspicious of him and accused him of political activism.
“He told us that one of his design failures, and one of the most memorable points of his life as a currency designer, was that the cluster of toddy palm fruits on the five-kyat note faced upward rather than downwards,” said one of his students and disciples Tampawaddy U Wing Maung.
“He said the design and pattern of the note was made in Germany while he was there but due to a rush in the process, he only found the mistake after the notes were printed and distributed.”
After leaving Wazi, U Aye Myint struggled as a designer of traditional Myanmar art in Yangon for about 11 years, often drawing cover designs for Buddhist literary magazines.
“He was a passionate artist who always explained every piece of his art work and design in those magazines. By reading his texts and viewing his art works, readers could learn about traditional Myanmar art and design,” explained Tampawaddy U Win Maung.
After settling down in Amarapura, U Aye Myint’s designs appeared at many Buddhist religious buildings including the ornamentations of the southern stairway of Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda and the golden umbrella of Mandalay’s Maha Muni Buddha Image.
In early 2016, on the day of his 86th birthday, U Aye Myint launched a showcase of his works in Mandalay.
During the exhibition, he launched a book named Ancient Myanmar Designs, a collection of Myanmar traditional arts and designs, which he and the late historian Dr. Than Tun had collected over the space of 50 years.
Until his last days, U Aye Myint worked as a consultant at Saung Dar traditional weaving Academy in Amarapura and a consultant for conservation and restoration works of numerous historical buildings around Mandalay, including Mandalay’s ancient Shwenandaw Kyaung Temple and Amarapura’s famous U Bein Bridge.
“An expert like him should be substituted. However, his disciples will continue to preserve the value of traditional arts and designs and will hand them down to future generations,” said Tampawaddy U Win Maung.
U Aye Myint is survived by his wife, three daughters and a son. His body will be cremated at Taung Inn Myauk Inn cemetery on Wednesday afternoon.