Truc Lam

Lacquer producers in Ha Thai village are modernising their traditional craft

For hundreds of years Vietnamese lacquer has been hailed as a unique traditional handicraft, known for its bright colours and durability. However, making traditional lacquer is a labour-intensive, highly skilled and complex process. Yields are low. While Vietnamese people take great pride in their traditional lacquer paintings, as the world becomes more global, this ancient craft is under threat.

Facing stiff competition from other countries that specialise in lacquer, many of Vietnam’s lacquer-makers are losing money. Many individuals and groups are seeking new ways to keep this ancient craft alive. The lacquer industry must take advantage of technological advances and introduce moderndesigns to attract more customers. The experience of Ha Thai lacquer village in Thuong Tin District, Hanoi serves as a good model.

As the only craft village in northern Vietnam to specialise in lacquer, Ha Thai is home to craftspeople who have spent their whole lives applying lacquer, eggshells and clam shells. The craft has evolved over centuries, bringing pride not just to Ha Thai but to the nation. As well as lacquer paintings, Ha Thai has long produced parallel sentences, Chinese signs, and religious items.

Making lacquer requires total precision. Vietnamese lacquer is extracted from wax trees in Phu Tho. From 10 to 12 layers of lacquer are added to each product, a process that takes from three weeks to one month. While traditional lacquer looks beautiful, it is not suited to cold European climates. Producers now use industrial paints that require shorter production times and are more suitable for use in households or restaurants.

Today, business experts are working with craftspeople to renovate the production process and introduce new designs. In recent years, experts from Viet Vision Co. have worked with Ha Thai craftsmen to create modern items such as rectangular or circular trays made of squeezed bamboo and household items. The biggest change was the materials used for the core. Previously, craftspeople used wood. Today, they are using pressed bamboo, pressed paper, plastic, composite, and ceramics or porcelain. Items are designed on computers.

Producers in Ha Thai have been eager to consult international experts to help revive their traditional craft. The Hanoi Department of Industry and Commerce invited international experts to give advice on how to improve the wares’ styles and usefulness to appeal to foreign customers. These new products are bringing fresh pride to Vietnamese producers who are winning new markets with their reputation for artistry and quality.