Folk painting like the one in Dong Ho is a celebration of traditions. In Vietnam, it keeps village life alive in people’s memories while the invasion of industries draws people in the cities.
It reflects what the artist sees, not what she imagines. In that sense, it is a backward-looking art resting on history, not modern art explorations of twisted visions in the artist’s mind when he looks at something or feels something.
Dong Ho's Pride
Dong Ho's pride is the family folk painting gallery of Nguyen Dang Che, a celebrated artist reveling in depicting the joys of small village life.
Through both paintings and wood block reproductions, he and his family create work that is worthwhile bringing home from Vietnam. When you travel, you should always try to get home the best you can afford in the countries you've visited.
Nguyen Dang Che: Folk Artist
Nguyen Dang Che’s art is among the best. Che is a small man filled with energy, working closely with his four sons and daughter.
Each family member has a task with producing the prints and paintings. The technical skill in cutting the wood blocks for the prints is a delight.
Dong Ho families still own many traditional blocks used for folk painting. This village was the center of folk painting popularly used by the Vietnamese to wish happiness, good luck, and fortune during TET, the Vietnamese New Year.
In the past, just before TET, the village used to hold a market for its folk paintings in its communal house.
Traditional Materials for Dong Ho Painting
Dong Ho folks painted on the traditional paper from the tree bark, Dzo.
It is wonderfully textured and helps focus on the quality of the overall effort.
Dzo is from the fiber of the bark of a papyrus-like plant coated with oyster shell dust called "diep" by the locals.
The Thai minority in Vietnam was the first to make this type of paper and continue to do so. Initially, dzo was only for writing poetry until the Dong Ho families discovered that it was perfect for folk painting once coated.
The mixing of colors of traditional herbs, tree leaves, charred bamboo, ground oyster shells, and red earth is an art in itself. To protect the finished painting, the painters cover it with a layer of "ho new," a sticky rice paste.
In Nguyen Dang Che's workshop, you can see all these traditional items used for folk painting.
Where Che paints have traditionally built workshops, which are worth a visit to see the village craftsmanship that has remained unchanged for a thousand years. Filled with light and warmed by wood, it’s a perfect setting for an art community.
Dong Ho is next to a river, the Duong, and is a verdant and fertile village giving the feeling of timelessness. Village markets are perched precariously on bridges and along the road, with all the seasonal fruits and vegetables eagerly promoted by cone-hatted farmers.
So visiting Che and his family is a great experience that includes the final artwork, and a quick peek into the hundreds of years old village life that forms the basis of the craft.
Samples of Folk Art from Nguyen Dang Che Gallery in Dong Ho
Where is Dong Ho?
A little more than an hour from Hanoi, it’s a half-day visit, and if combined with the famous duck lunch in Bac Ninh, it will be an experience you’ll remember well each time you look at Che’s woodcut or painting on your wall.
Located 30 km. from Hanoi, along the Duong River, Dong Ho or Mai Village is in Song Ho commune in the district of Thuan Thanh in the province of Bac Ninh.
For those interested in crafts, Vietnam has many other craft villages and initiatives. Check these out:
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