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Vietnamese folk prints (March 01, 2004)

A shop of Hang Trong folk prints run by the Le family since the 19th century.
Along with the folk prints of Dong Ho ( Bac Ninh province) and the red pictures of Kim Hoang (Ha Tay Province), the Hang Trong prints (Hanoi) form one of the typical schools of folk paintings in Vietnam.

Mr Le Dinh Nghien in Cua Dong Street, Hanoi, must be the only one left from the Le Family specializing in producing these well-known prints. Having engaged in the production of Hang Trong folk prints since the age of 6 - 7, and now at nearly 60, never has there been a moment when Mr. Nghien gave up the work. His deep attachment to this hereditary occupation has been out of great passion and a sense of responsibility for the preservation, conservation and restoration of a rare school of folk prints, for the future generations.

The carving for a "Beautiful Girl" folk print. "Beautiful Girl".
Visiting his home, we sensed we were discovering a depot of antiquities or even an exhibition of Hang Trong folk prints of all sizes, big and small. Some wooden carvings were 200-300 years old, but others looked quite new, seemingly a fresh collection, and all these were stored away and taken good care of in the garret above his bed. He said: "The three schools of folk prints are all produced manually, in a hereditary way. However, the Hang Trong folk prints are different from the other two in that they are printed in black on wooden carvings, and the rest painted by hand in colours. Unlike the Dong Ho prints on rice paper that specifically portray the mundane life, the Hang Trong prints, besides depicting the daily life, illustrate old folk tales and legends, with a particular category of joss-paper prints for worshipping icons, under the influence of Buddhism and Taoism. The icons in Hang Trong prints, simple and plain as they may be, are carefully drawn, giving an expression of majesty and magnificence, with a lofty spiritual significance by the impact of their bright colours, very close to real life."

"MrTiger", one of Hang Trong folk prints for worshipping. "Peacock".
To produce a print, first of all, the artisan should prepare a wooden carving taken from the trunk of a decandrous persimmon tree, malleable and durable, neither twisted, crooked nor cracked under the impacts of the harsh weather conditions. The models are usually sketched by an experienced artisan on the flat wooden piece itself, then they are carved deep into a negative plate. The black ink is applied on the carved wood before the paper is put on it, and it is well, evenly rubbed with the fabric of an old loofah. When taking the paper off the carving piece, you get a mono-colour print with simple lines. Now comes the work of the artisan: he uses colours to paint the print, using his aesthetic sense and skill. For this reason, from the same wooden carving, the prints still have different lines and colours. The artisan may even add some minor details to his liking, at his own discretion. And sometimes an old hand, who knows by rote the basic details of the wooden carving, may draw black lines directly on the paper then paint colours on it, without printing it on the wooden piece.

Artisan Le Dinh Nghien confessed to us: "My father, the well-known artisan Le Dinh Lieu, handed down this trade to me when I was still very young, and as a result, I've come to grasp all the links of producing a print. Also thanks to learning at home, I've not been affected by the other schools. In 1972, I was recruited by the Vietnam Museum of Fine Arts to undertake the restoration and maintenance of old prints and roughly a hundred wooden carvings of old Hang Trong folk prints. I did the job with great passion, thinking it was a good opportunity for me to collect, restore and maintain the family's school of prints that was in danger of being lost. "

With a desire to have more and more people, particularly foreign travellers on visits to the capital city, beholding and buying Hang Trong folk prints, Mr. Nghien and his fellow artisans have opened a gallery, selling handicraft products, worshipping articles along with Hang Trong folk prints, right in their birth place, true to their name: Hang Trong Street.

Reprinted with permission from Nhan Dan Newspaper


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