Lacquerware of Vietnam
Vietnam"s lacquer ware has a long long tail. Maybe, two thousand years in length. Lacquer items have been found in ancient tombs from as early as the 3rd century. The beauty is so captivating that it got me committed to learning and now working on one item out of eggshell.
That long tail surrounds me with its intricacy and complexity and I am just realizing the height of the mountain in front of me. I have already spent 3 mornings and I am just putting the tiny egg shells in a pattern which is not even very complicated. The time and patience in doing one is admirable.
Vietnam's Tradition in Lacquerware
Traditionally, lacquer ware in Vietnam came in three colours: vermillion, black and brown. But artists have since developed a variety of styles using richer colours and other unique materials. There is now more imagination applied to many of the items but each piece is always a work of patience and time and as I'm learning, infinite skill.
The process usually starts with sealing the imperfections in the wood with black lacquer. The wood is then dried and sanded smooth in water. Then, the wood is painted with a thick mixture of lacquer, sawdust, finely ground rock and alluvial soil, dried and again sanded in water repeatedly. Two times is the minimum.
This red jewelry lacquer box is a favourite but a long way from my present skills. Many Vietnamese artists have now adapted their skills in making lacquerware to other art forms. Below is a painting made of lacquer.
A Visit to Vietnam's Traditional Lacquer Village
If you love lacquerware, you must take a day trip to Ha Tai, the lacquer village close to Hanoi, One weekend, we decided to go. Here in Ha Tai, families have made lacquer for many, many years and skills are passed on to other family members. This is not like Bat Trang, not yet, where the streets are lined with stores. No, you go in to the small factories usually the first floor of homes and often run by Mom and Dad who are just as busy refining the lacquer products or dipping their hands into etching designs.
We were lucky to have gone in one of the most friendly owners who readily welcomed us and allowed us to see the production line, a group of young women including his wife, squatting on tiny stools washing and polishing the lacquer ware. The owner does the design and the quality control.
The owners get their design from some of the stores in Hanoi who often buy their products. Of course, when you're right in the factory, the prices are really much lower than in Hanoi so we ended with whatever designs they had finished. If you have a chance, Ha Tai is worth a visit.
Ha Tai: Traditional Lacquer Village in Vietnam
Vietnam's Outstanding Lacquer Artists
Here are the pioneers in introducing innovations to Vietnamese Lacquer Painting:
- Nguyen Duc Nung
- Nguyen Khang
- BuiTrang Chuoc
- Nguyen Van Binh
- Pham Van Don
- Nguyen Tien Chung
How Lacquerware started in Vietnam
Lacquerware had a long history in China and started spreading throughout many countries in Asia including Vietnam during the Han, Tang and Song dynasties. Vietnam learned the art which they later made their own with their own unique innovations.
Such innovations started with the artists in the Ecole des Beaux Artes in Hanoi when in 1934, the School opened its lacquer painting department. Innovations included the use of eggshell, sand and painting pigment over gold and tin foil.
Today, many modern Vietnamese artists have introduced new innovations making their design more desirable. They even use some materials from nature to give texture to the usually smooth lacquer pieces.
Here's a Lacquer Box I Made
How Design is Applied on Vietnam Lacquerware
I made this lacquer box under the tutelage of a Vietnamese lacquer expert and former professor in the University of Fine Arts in Hanoi, Madame My, whose hands are incredibly stable. I applied the design to the box by tracing what I have drawn freely on paper.
After the design was completed, I coated it with special lacquer while the surface with no design I painted with solid lacquer. The lacquer coating was done at least twice and then polished with wax.
The design can also be applied by direct drawing. Tracing is recommended for those of us who have to satisfy ourselves with copied designs. once, I picked eggshell to outline some of the elements in the design I chose and it was painstaking with emphasis on the pain! First, I painted lacquer on a tiny surface of the design. On the lacquer painted surface, I placed tiny flakes of eggshells using a very tiny brush. I retreated this process until I finished putting eggshells on the design. The more complicated the design, the more tedious it is.
Sometimes, paint or mother of pearl are used on the design rather than egg shells. You can also paint it using acrylic. Given the time and skill it takes to finish each item, the prices really start to make sense.
Below, my Japanese friend and fellow student patiently puts paint on the lacquer.
A Co-Learner Applying Paint on the Lacquer Plate
How Lacquerware is Made in Vietnam
Have a peek at how lacquerware is made in Vietnam. You can see the tin foil applied on the lacquered bowl. Once this is dry, paint is applied or a desing using eggshell or mother of pearl. Many of the modern Vietnamese artists have become very creative in using new designs and other materials to enhance their lacquer work.
Have you tried making lacquerware?
Try Making Lacquer in Vietnam
Making lacquer was an engagement I will never forget. Each time we go back to Hanoi, I take more lessons with a very good teacher Madame My. She used to teach Art at the Hanoi University and what I like is that I just go there, maybe bring a pattern I like and all the resources are there to do whatever you want. We used to pay only $8 per lesson which is a full morning and this includes paint. You can leave your unfinished work and go back to finish it another time. It is often full in the weekends but you can always find a place and more friends.
Some tours now arrange a day to visit the lacquer village and try your hands at making lacquer. Give it a try when you visit Vietnam.
Red, A Lucky Vietnam Lacquerware Colour
Red is also a lucky colour for many Asians so this red Vietnamese lacquer box is a brilliant gift especially for new year.
Asians believe that this will bring them luck and I'll go with any idea supported by 3 billion people!
If not for yourself, give it as a gift and if possible, give it to a friend who has Asian roots. They will love it the more because of the symbolism of dragonflies.
© 2013 Mary Norton