Mask-making couple get busy for Mid-Autumn Festival

September 09, 2022 - 12:58
These masks are sold by market vendors and are widely popular among children, who wear and play with them, particularly during Mid-Autumn Festival.

Tricia Teo

This is the busiest time of year for mask makers Đặng Hương Lan and her husband Nguyễn Văn Hoà.

They spend their time crafting funny masks for children, and with Mid-Autumn Festival just around the corner, demand for the creations soar.

Lan honed her skills as a child, watching her grandfather and relatives pass down the craft through generations.

She passed the craft onto her husband, who joined the family trade when they married.

LOCAL ARTISANS: Đặng Hương Lan and her husband Nguyễn Văn Hoà paint funny masks together on the balcony of their house. VNS Photo Minh Phương

“Back then, the average income was insufficient to raise a big family, send children to school, and fulfil living necessaries,” Lan said.

“Our family developed this traditional craft, which my husband and I feel passionate about and love doing.”

As they are 100 per cent handmade, the delicate requirements to create these masks need patience and skill.

It is a lengthy process, taking eight months to complete the papier-mache shells first, after which they can only paint twelve masks a day at most.

“These masks often require us to build three or four layers of papier-mache over the top. Once these layers are dry, we paint another layer of paste, remove it from the mould and leave it to dry naturally overnight. We call this process the masks’ white coats.” Lan said.

PAPER MANIA: Nguyễn Văn Hoà (unseen in the photo) shows how he uses papier-mache to form the mask’s shell. VNS Photo Minh Phương

Painting the masks is also a long process. For the buffalo-face masks, she will paint all the eyes first and leave them to dry, then the flowers, and so on, instead of painting one mask at a time.

This helps the masks’ colours to be brightly saturated and maintain crisp lines.

“We have to keep a steady hand when painting the masks or when we take it out onto the drying rack, so it doesn’t fall apart,” she said.

“It’s important to treat the process step by step.”

This is just part of everyday life for the couple, who have been doing it for years with an unwavering passion.

Her husband Hoà said: “After years of making these masks and with about 10 models daily, it has become second nature. After all, it’s just the common animals -- buffalos, tigers, and cows. So the strokes are just that; my hand memorises the repetitive features. The more you do it, the more you know it.”

FLOWER POWER: Nguyễn Văn Hoà (unseen in the photo) delicately paints a flower on the buffalo-face mask. VNS Photo Tricia Teo

These masks are sold by market vendors and are widely popular among children, who wear and play with them, particularly during the Full-Moon Festival.

Popular models include faces of animals such as tigers, rabbits, buffalos, and folk tale characters, representing different things.

For example, model 'Ông Địa' represents the god of earth and fertile land, and the rabbit symbolises beauty and harmony. These two masks are associated with Vietnamese ancestors’ hope for a bountiful harvest.

Although these masks are usually associated with and sold during festivities, the couple sells them all year round.

Even when the pandemic paused her Mid-Autumn Festival sales, she would receive customer calls for orders.

COLOURFUL CREATIONS: Artisan Đặng Hương Lan shows off the masks she and her husband make for the Mid-Autumn Festival. VNS Photo Minh Phương

“For 43 years, we’ve been selling steadily with a strong and developing customer base," Lan said.

“I get calls from people who buy the masks to decorate salons, restaurants and cafes, or for children to practise painting in making the papier-mache shell. I have these masks in stock for sale no matter what time of year.

“I hope Vietnamese people will pay more attention to our traditional products. So when you take your children to the fairs during the Mid-Autumn Festival, please explain to them the value and significance of these masks that we couldn’t afford before and could only dream of playing with during our childhood in the past."

The couple is excited for the Mid-Autumn Festival, the first in two years that isn’t facing any restrictions or worries from the pandemic.

They hope that children and adults alike will enjoy the festivities and stay connected to Vietnamese traditions and culture so that they will be preserved and passed down for future generations. — VNS

FACE OFF: Children at a booth with papier mache masks at a Mid-Autumn Festival event at Việt Nam Museum of Ethnology. VNA/VNS Photo Tuấn Đức