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Dong Ho painting market revived

Update: February, 06/2016 - 10:00
HA NOI (VNS) — The Đong Ho painting market which opened for Tet (Lunar New Year) in Song Ho commune, Thuan Thanh District, in the northern province of Bac Ninh, had existed till mid-1940s.

It has been mentioned in people's chats ever since. In recent years, more and more people flock to Dong Ho Village at Tet to buy paintings to decorate their houses for the important holiday.

Artisan Nguyen Huu Sam, a resident at the village recalled that in 1945, when he was 15 years old, he was asked to carry a basket loaded with paintings to be sold at a local market.

There was a famine that year so fewer people tended to buy his paintings.

Sam did not know that would be the last painting market in his village.

"A year later, when the French camped at this side of Duong River, residents of Ho Village fled to safer places, the painting market almost disappeared," he said.

"Many years later, even after life became easier, our village did not organise such a painting market for Tet again," he said in regret.

The Dong Ho painting used to be the painting for Tet. The whole handicraft village was busy printing the painting at the end of July and early August to prepare for Tet paintings.

Artisan Nguyen Huu Sam introduces a new designed painting by his family. — Photo tienphong.vn

Dong Ho wood block paintings were made from natural materials. They were printed on do (poonar) paper, which absorbs liquid colours easily and is easy to dry. The paper is covered with a mixture of glue with tiny pieces of broken shell of diep (a kind of mussel). The mixture makes the paper whiter and the small pieces of shell make it glitter. That is why the paper is also dubbed giay diep (mussel paper).

Colours are made from natural materials such as red hill soil, yellow from flower, green from verdigris, black from the ash of burnt bamboo leaves, white from mussel shell.

The printing block is from a kind of flexible and elastic wood, which facilitates small carved details.

Dong Ho paintings always convey a profound message, and live experiences drawn by previous generations.

Images of chickens, pigs, a mice's wedding, and playing on swing, apart from wrestling, and hide and seek, or topics concerning flowers and animals, are reflected with fun by the village's artisans.

In the last month of the Lunar New Year, the villagers organised markets to sell only paintings. People from other localities, who did not care about the long distances, flocked here to buy paintings. The market satisfied both well-to-do and poor people. The paintings are hung on the walls to decorate houses as a way to welcome spring.

A few months after the Tet, people throw away old paintings and buy new paintings again the next spring.

"People buy paintings not only to decorate the houses but also to express their wishes throughout the year," Sam said.

Though the special market for Tet painting is no longer organised, more and more people have been visiting the village to buy paintings at Tet over the past few years.

"Customers still seek traditional paintings of herds of chicken, pig and piglets, and mice's wedding," Nguyen Thi Oanh said. She is the daughter-in-law of Sam, who has also been recognised as an artisan of the Vietnamese handicraft village.

Beside traditional paintings, Oanh has also created a few topics such as "Painting Market at Tet", "Duo Singing on Boat" and "Countryside Village". She has also made animal paintings suitable for each year such as cute monkeys for this year (the year of Monkey).

Oanh said, her family has continuously upgraded the look and quality of paintings to attract customers. Her products are enclosed in glass frames of stick on bamboo boards to facilitate hanging.

"Through my increasing number of customers, I realised that many modern people like the simple beauty of Dong Ho paintings, especially at Tet," she said. — VNS

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