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Lacquerware of Vietnam

Mary has been working in Southeast Asia since the 70s and when assigned in Vietnam, she learned how to do lacquerware.

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.

Lacquer Box from Vietnam

Lacquer Box from Vietnam

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.

Lacquer Painting

Lacquer Painting

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

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

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

Applying Paint on a Lacquered Plate

Applying Paint on a Lacquered 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.

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

Do you think this Vietnamese lacquerware is a worthwhile gift?

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on September 05, 2019:

Thanks Denise. I was lucky to have an excellent teacher.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on September 04, 2019:

Amazing. I loved your box. It's so beautiful. That seems like a lot of work. I'm very impressed. Thanks for sharing.

Blessings,

Denise

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on May 14, 2018:

Yes, they do with Mother of Pearl. I hope you get there soon.

Robert Sacchi on May 13, 2018:

Yes, they are. In Korea they had some lacquerware furniture. They were expensive of course. Do they also make such pieces in Vietnam.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on May 13, 2018:

I'm sure they are beautiful.

Robert Sacchi on May 13, 2018:

She likes lacquerware but she doesn't collect things. We do have some pieces from Korea.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on May 12, 2018:

Thanks Robert. Yes, Madame My, our teacher used to teach in the University of Fine Arts. That is interesting that your wife did that. She must like lacquerware.

Robert Sacchi on May 12, 2018:

A very interesting article. It is interesting the shops in Vietnam give lacquerware lessons. My spouse us to sell lacquerware in Korea.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on May 31, 2017:

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 from Essex, UK on May 30, 2017:

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

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 01, 2017:

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

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on February 28, 2017:

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.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on February 03, 2017:

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

Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on February 01, 2017:

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

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on January 22, 2017:

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

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on January 21, 2017:

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

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on November 19, 2015:

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

Rachel L Alba from Every Day Cooking and Baking on October 09, 2015:

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

Blessings to you.

monia ben saad from In my Dream on May 06, 2015:

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

monia ben saad from In my Dream on May 06, 2015:

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

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 14, 2015:

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

Susie Lehto from Minnesota on March 14, 2015:

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 from Shelton on February 12, 2015:

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

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on January 30, 2015:

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 Woods from Houston, Texas on January 30, 2015:

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.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on January 25, 2015:

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

Jyoti Kothari from Jaipur on January 20, 2015:

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

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on January 12, 2015:

You can make it as unique as you want.

poetryman6969 on January 11, 2015:

Love an ornate and mysterious box!

peachy from Home Sweet Home on January 09, 2015:

beautiful design, hand drawn patterns are really unique

travmaj from australia on December 28, 2014:

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

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on December 19, 2014:

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.

Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on December 18, 2014:

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.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on December 01, 2014:

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

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on December 01, 2014:

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!

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on November 29, 2014:

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

Jo Alexis-Hagues from Lincolnshire, U.K on November 29, 2014:

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.

Stephen J Parkin from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada on November 24, 2014:

They are beautiful!

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on November 24, 2014:

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

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on November 24, 2014:

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

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on November 24, 2014:

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

Stephen J Parkin from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada on November 24, 2014:

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

Giovanna from UK on November 24, 2014:

It's beautiful!

Lorelei Cohen from Canada on November 24, 2014:

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

Melody Lassalle from California on November 23, 2014:

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

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on November 05, 2014:

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.

Dianna Mendez on November 05, 2014:

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

mumsgather on October 14, 2014:

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

Nell Rose from England on October 08, 2014:

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

WriterJanis2 on December 11, 2013:

I like the color and the dragonfly is so pretty.

anemnafair on December 10, 2013:

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

lesliesinclair on December 09, 2013:

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.

Takkhis on December 09, 2013:

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

sousababy on December 07, 2013:

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