(No.3, Vol.9, Jun-Jul 2019 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Text by Khanh Hoa; Photos by Nguyen Van Dong


Ha Thai Village of Thuong Tin District of Hanoi started its traditional paint trade in the 17th century. In the 30s of last century, the paint village of Ha Thai learned polishing techniques and the use of materials such as egg shell and snail. It was during this time that elder Dinh Van Thanh of Thai Ha Village was invited to an exposition in France to demonstrate the art of lacquer painting.

Lacquer painting is an intricate art that includes many steps and each requires the artisan to be utterly meticulous, stubbornly diligent, tirelessly patient and, of course, highly artistic in order for the final product to be a true work of art.

In the early years of the 21st century, the trade of Ha Thai went worldwide.. During the years 2007-2010, the 800 household village had nearly 90% of its households, or about 1600 workers involved in the trade. During this period, the village artisans introduced many new materials, colors, forms and designs. Ha Thai produced lacquer paintings, nacre inlaid paintings, buckets, vases and bowls to export to the UK, France, Russia, US, Spain, Australia, Italy, Japan, and South Korea.

For its preservation of material and spiritual values, in 2010 Ha Thai was one of two traditional art and craft trade villages chosen by Japan’s JICA as a strategic leverage points for sustainable development of trade villages.

However in recent years, a gloom has fallen over  Ha Thai trade village because artisans and workers quit the trade. The reason was that the prices of traditional products soared, making them  hard to sell. The prices of traditional products soared because the costs, especially labor, increased drastically.

Today, only about 10 households of Ha Thai still conduct the trade. Most of their lacquer paintings are made by machines, cost little and have little aesthetical value.

Traditionally, lacquer paintings used to be polished manually.. Today only a few artist families continue making this kind of painting.

Realizing the prospect of lacquer painting trade of Ha Thai going “extinct” in recent years, the local government made efforts to preserve it by bringing lacquer painted products to fairs, and opening tours to Ha Thai to let tourists learn first-hand about the trade and buy the paintings directly at the source.

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