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Dong Ho – Vietnamese traditional art travelling across the world

November 19, 2007          1371 views

The Dong Ho picture style, a Vietnamese traditional painting art in northern Vietnam, has now been restored to life, after nearly half of a century of neglect in the wake of modern and western arts in Vietnam.

A Dong Ho-styled paintingA Dong Ho-styled painting

According to histories of families that have been working with Dong Ho pictures, the Dong Ho drawing style was born at least 500 years ago. In the past, all people in Dong Ho village lived on Dong Ho pictures, which were often sold along Thang Longs’ (Hanoi) streets. Especially, on occasions like Lunar New Year Festival, various kinds of Dong Ho pictures with bright colours and different themes were sold, featuring daily life and work of Vietnamese ordinary people.

During the second half of the 20th century, Dong Ho pictures were rarely seen in markets. However, some people in the village still kept up their ancestors’ profession and taught their children the techniques and know-how of making Dong Ho pictures with a hope that some day, Dong Ho pictures would be recognised in terms of art and culture by other people and markets, as well.

They did not have to wait for long. In the late 1990s, some Vietnamese people who are inclined towards ancient and traditional arts eyed Dong Ho pictures and came to Dong Ho village to encourage partisans to revive the profession. Later on, Dong Ho pictures were introduced to international tourists, and surprisingly this kind of art interests them very much.

Among a small number of artisans, Nguyen Dang Che is considered the person that has contributed much to the restoration of the Dong Ho drawing style. In 1991, after retiring from his work in Hanoi he returned to his home village Dong Ho, Thuan Thanh district, Bac Ninh province. He spent a lot of time and energy studying his ancestors’ traditional drawing techniques and secrets. He found his family’s 26 patterns to draw Dong Ho pictures that are more than 200 years old. He then learnt how to do the whole process of drawing a picture.

In fact, it is not very difficult to paint a Dong Ho picture. Still, not many people can make drawing papers, only some people know how to make the inks and fewer can produce a good Dong Ho picture. Dong Ho pictures in the market look simple, but only artisans who have in hand secrets and skills can make them. Their secrets and skills are only passed on to their children, normally their first sons, when they die.

Dong Ho pictures are now produced mainly by 2 workshops run by 2 families, namely Nguyen Dang Che and Nguyen Huu Sam in Dong Ho village. Yet they supply enough pictures for not only Vietnamese people but also foreigners. Millions of Dong Ho pictures are sold every year.

Today Dong Ho village is a tourist place. Vietnamese and international visitors can witness most of the process of making a Dong Ho picture. If one wants to make one for himself, he will be instructed by artisans. As Dong Ho village attracts a growing number of international tourists, the Dong Ho picture, a Vietnamese traditional art, is increasingly promoted all over the world.

Source: HNM/QDND

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