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Lacquerware of Vietnam

Updated on April 2, 2016

Vietnam Lacquer Box

Lacquer Box from Vietnam
Lacquer Box from Vietnam | Source

Vietnam's Lacquerware

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.

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.

Lacquer Painting

Lacquer Painting
Lacquer Painting | Source

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

Ha Tai Lacquer Village near Hanoi
Ha Tai Lacquer Village near Hanoi | Source

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

Aesta's Lacquerbox
Aesta's Lacquerbox | Source

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.

A Co-Learner Applying Paint on the Lacquer Plate

Applying Paint on a Lacquered Plate
Applying Paint on a Lacquered Plate | Source

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?

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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 Lacquerbox with Dragonfly

Lacquer boxes usually stand out and catch attention as a room accessory. They give any room life and vibrancy. They hold fruits or other items as well which makes them more valuable.

In red, they work well for Christmas and New Year. they are also used as accents in an otherwise drab room. With dragonflies, their value hold more meaning. Dragonflies are powerful symbols in many cultures. In Asian cultures where it is associated with the dragon, dragonflies are held as symbols of transformation, new change in life. When dragonflies appear in your dream, there will be changes coming in your life.

For the Vietnamese, the dragonfly is a powerful symbol and appears in many of legends. It is even said to predict weather. The Vietnamese believe that when they fly low, rain will come. When they fly high, the sun Will surely shine. When you can't see them, you've had too much wine and it's misty ! At a medium level of flight, the dragonflies predict a hazy weather.

It's not only the Vietnamese who have special meaning for dragonflies. Other cultures also have varied interpretations of dragonflies and some may not be positive so having this accent in your room will often lead to interesting conversations among your guests. My Scottish Mother in Law called them Devil's Darning Needles. Now that could be a great story.


Red Lacquerware Dragonfly Wood Wooden Bracelet (3042)
Red Lacquerware Dragonfly Wood Wooden Bracelet (3042)

Just a variation from the same dragonfly design except that this one is in a bowl. This can hold fruits or other items you want to keep together. Aside from its utility, it is a striking accent for a room.

 

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.

Do you think this Vietnamese lacquerware is a worthwhile gift?

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    • aesta1 profile image
      Author

      Mary Norton 2 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you Alun. We are back in Hanoi and enjoying everything about it. We visited once the lacquer village and the one which does inlaid pearl. A Vietnamese diplomat once gave me a panel like what you're describing and told me never to part with it as it is antique so I still have it. You should keep your 4 panels.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 2 months ago from Essex, UK

      As I write this comment Mary, I have my back to the fireplace in my lounge. And above that fireplace are four green panels of Vietnamese lacquered wood, inlaid with mother of pearl, and depicting four bowls of grasses, leaves and flowers, together with birds and butterflies (not dragonflies) representing the four seasons.

      Hence my interest in this article, and the process of creating lacquerware which you describe. Fascinating stuff Mary, and I have to say that in the photo you provide, the lacquer box you made looks like a very professional job! Well done. Alun

    • aesta1 profile image
      Author

      Mary Norton 5 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      That's great. Keep enjoying it. It takes a lot of work to finish one.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 5 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Great article. Just looking around we have about 10 pieces of Vietnamese lacquer ware in our home. I think we only have one from the north. I love the shops dedicated to this art. Thanks for reminding me how special it is.

    • aesta1 profile image
      Author

      Mary Norton 6 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      They are beautiful. I kept the ones I made. They're quite special.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 6 months ago from Nashville Tn.

      This lacquerware is just beautiful! I would love to have one of these lovely boxes. Thank you.

    • aesta1 profile image
      Author

      Mary Norton 7 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks so much for the visit and for connecting with me. Appreciate the support.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 7 months ago from Dubai

      Interesting and informative article about lacquerware of Vietnam. The lacquer work box you made is beautiful. Enjoyed reading, thank you for sharing this.

    • aesta1 profile image
      Author

      Mary Norton 21 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      I enjoyed learning how to make it and I enjoy looking at some of the boxes I made.

    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 22 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      What beautiful artwork. I love things like that. Thanks for sharing.

      Blessings to you.

    • monia saad profile image

      monia ben saad 2 years ago from In my Dream

      I like these colors a lot. Each piece vibrant. Surely it is in need of great skill. Multi beautiful and thank you

    • monia saad profile image

      monia ben saad 2 years ago from In my Dream

      I am now more longing to visit this wonderful place. From what I read I feel during my stay there.

    • aesta1 profile image
      Author

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Susie, I aheg to ask you when I come back to Canada where you got your lacquer. I want to keep doing it.

    • colorfulone profile image

      Susie Lehto 2 years ago from Minnesota

      I love the look and feel of lacquerware. I have made some of my own and the more coats of lacquer I have used, the better the piece looks.

      Beautiful hub, Mary.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton

      what a wonderful hub.. lacquerware wow ill just buy it.. only because im lazy LOL

    • aesta1 profile image
      Author

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Japan and China make some of the best lacquerware and yes, Vietnam so it would be interesting to find out where your lacquer pieces came from.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I have a few pieces of lacquer ware and am now wondering where it was made. It is beautiful work especially when combined with shells, etc. I applaud you for making some of your own. I did not realize that it was a big business in Vietnam.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I like the color and so creative. You have interesting and informative hubs. I am glad to have met another new Hubber.

    • JYOTI KOTHARI profile image

      Jyoti Kothari 2 years ago from Jaipur

      Opened new area. Thanks for nice info. Rated up and useful!

    • aesta1 profile image
      Author

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      You can make it as unique as you want.

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 2 years ago

      Love an ornate and mysterious box!

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      beautiful design, hand drawn patterns are really unique

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      Just beautiful, thank you for bringing this Vietnamese lacquerware to our attention. Most interesting

    • aesta1 profile image
      Author

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      PegCole17, I wish I am but our teacher guided us all the way, even mixed paints for us. Thank you, though, for the visit. I truly appreciate it.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      This is true art in wood. I love these beautifully crafted boxes you shared here and the technique used to make them. Years ago, I had a jewelry box made in this style that was also a music box. How I wish I'd kept that through the years. You are certainly a talented craft maker. Wow. The red color is my favorite.

      Voted up, awesome, beautiful and interesting.

    • aesta1 profile image
      Author

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks for the vote ChitrangadaSharan. Appreciate your viewing this hub.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 2 years ago from New Delhi, India

      These lacquer boxes are so bright and beautiful and I enjoyed going through its making process.

      It's a great gift option. Thanks for sharing this informative hub and a part of Vietnamese art!

      Voted up!

    • aesta1 profile image
      Author

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you tobusiness. It is not hard to repair. I have some I repaired after shipping. The Japanese ones are even finer.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 2 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      How clever! I do have a Japanese lacquer jewel box which I bought in Saudi Arabia some years ago. Unfortunately, it's back in the Caribbean with many of the things I haven't had a chance to ship over. I'm sure it will need repairing when I do get it back to the UK.

      This is useful and educational information, thank you for sharing. Voted up interesting and useful.

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 2 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      They are beautiful!

    • aesta1 profile image
      Author

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Yes, some of the best are from Japan but they cost so much. China, too, has some of the most beautiful pieces.

    • aesta1 profile image
      Author

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I have made a few boxes and they are beautiful as display storage.

    • aesta1 profile image
      Author

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Some lacquerware have 7 layers. These are the one sold at Harrods and are really worth it. Polishing it can take some time.

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 2 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      This art seem to be practiced in a lot of Asian countries and it is extremely beautiful! A lovely Hub well done.

    • Adventuretravels profile image

      Giovanna Sanguinetti 2 years ago from London UK

      It's beautiful!

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 2 years ago from Canada

      Very beautiful. I have seen pieces in the past and they are gorgeous.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image

      Melody Lassalle 2 years ago from California

      What a fascinating, intricate craft! It must take an incredible amount of patience to create the designs. The items very beautiful!

    • aesta1 profile image
      Author

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      The other day, I just finished a frame and I am so happy. I am again going to class today to make more. I am really lucky to be here now to do some of these. Thank you for the visit.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 2 years ago

      What an interesting and lovely art form. I would love to own a piece. Thanks for the background on this and the education.

    • profile image

      mumsgather 2 years ago

      These are so pretty. How nice that you are able to travel so much and see some of these yourself.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      I love the colors, and I never knew that lacquer wear had been around for such a long time! really interesting, nell

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 3 years ago

      I like the color and the dragonfly is so pretty.

    • profile image

      anemnafair 3 years ago

      ooo this is cool. I liked the third video. It was very cool how they made it. Nice Lens!

    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      I bought some Vietnamese lacquerware on, of all places, Grand Cayman Isle, and it's so enjoyable to use and look at because of the depth of the design application.

    • takkhisa profile image

      Takkhis 3 years ago

      I do think it is going to be a nice gift idea for every girls, thanks for sharing :)

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 3 years ago

      These are extremely well made and absolutely gorgeous. I love the red and black colors used on them.