Traditional New Year Painting

Nga Do
You may have seen them before. They adorn the walls of Vietnamese restaurants everywhere in the world and Vietnamese overseas hang them up as Lunar New Year approaches. In Vietnam, production of these folk paintings peaks right before Tet holiday as merchants stock up in anticipation of heavy customer demand. These paintings are traditionally used to decorate homes for the New Year festival.

Producing Dong Ho paintings is a trade of time-honoured tradition of the village of Dong Ho. It is Dong Ho paintings that make Dong Ho village famous across Vietnam as well as in the world. In fact, only Dong Ho village’s people can turn out real Dong Ho paintings.

The village of Dong Ho is in Ha Bac, the province just north of Hanoi. Come there, besides impressive paintings, you can enjoy the beautiful rural scenery and fresh air of the Vietnam’s countryside. However, whenever people mention to Dong Ho village, first of all, they remember Dong Ho paintings.

The production of Dong Ho paintings is rather sophisticated. It can be described as follows

The printmaking process

The prints are made by brushing paint made of local material onto carved wood blocks, then pressing the blocks on paper. The print is left to dry after each color is applied before another color is added. Three to five colors are used to make each print.

The wood blocks

The wooden blocks are made from the thi tree, a soft fibrous wood. The block is used as a printing plate, with one block for each color, print and size. A big shelf in the printing room holds hundreds of wood blocks. Among them, some are 200 years old. Wood block carving is an art handed down within the family by the master to his children. In the village, there are some families have been making prints for many generations. Coming to visit Dong Ho village, you can see many sons and several daughters working, learning the craft from their fathers and carrying on the family tradition.

The paper

The prints are all done on traditional giay gio paper made from the bark fiber of the do tree. This tree grows in the northwestern part of the country. The sheath is stripped off the tree trunk and soaked in a pond for a month. It is then dipped in limewater for two weeks, followed by a wash. After ten days or so the pulp is poured into frames which are stacked for several more days. Then the stacks are arranged on a wall to dry and pressed smooth with a stone mortar.

The paper is coated with a pulverized powder made from shellfish found in the Hai Phong area. The shellfish is brought to the village and coated with mud for two years. The entire mixture is then ground up by stone mortar and put into a water tank to be filtered and pressed into balls that weigh about a kilo and they are left to dry on the walls or floors. They are then used as needed and mixed with glue. This mixture is called diep powder.

Dong Ho paintings will be very meaningful gift after your Tet holiday in Vietnam, to see that Vietnam not only culturally rich but also very unique.

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