A Dong Ho folk painting artist (Photo: VNA)

Hanoi (VNA) -
Dong Ho folk painting artisans in Song Ho village, Thuan Thanh district, northern Bac Ninh province have made the Lunar New Year (Tet) festival more colourful with the centuries-old art form they are pursuing.

The whole handicraft village was busy printing the painting at the end of July and early August to prepare for Tet paintings.

Dong Ho folk painting uses woodcut prints depicting the daily activities and religious practices of farmers in the Red River Delta.

Popular works titled “Playing the flute”, “Farmer and Water Buffalo”, “Catching coconuts”, “Jealousy” and “Mice Wedding” reflect the artists’ and local inhabitants’ aspirations for happy, peaceful and prosperous lives. Modern themes, including revolution and national sea and island sovereignty have also caught on in recent years.

The paintings are printed on do (poonar) paper, which absorbs liquid colours easily and is easy to dry. The paper is covered with a mixture of glue with tiny pieces of broken shell of diep (a kind of mussel). The mixture makes the paper whiter and the small pieces of shell make it glitter. That is why the paper is also dubbed giay diep (mussel paper).

Colours are made from natural materials such as red hill soil, yellow from flower, green from verdigris, black from the ash of burnt bamboo leaves, white from mussel shell.

The printing block is from a kind of flexible and elastic wood, which facilitates small carved details.

Dong Ho paintings always convey a profound message, and live experiences drawn by previous generations.

Images of chickens, pigs, a mice's wedding, and playing on swing, apart from wrestling, and hide and seek, or topics concerning flowers and animals, are reflected with fun by the village's artisans.

In the last month of the lunar year, villagers organised markets to sell only paintings. People from other localities, who did not care about the long distances, flocked there to buy paintings. The market satisfied both well-to-do and poor people. The paintings are hung on the walls to decorate houses as a way to welcome spring.

A few months after the Tet, people throw away old paintings and buy new paintings again the next spring.

"People buy paintings not only to decorate the houses but also to express their wishes throughout the year," said Nguyen Huu Sam, an artisan at the village.

Though the special market for Tet painting is no longer organised, more and more people have been visiting the village to buy paintings at Tet over the past few years.

"Customers still seek traditional paintings of herds of chicken, pig and piglets, and mice's wedding," Nguyen Thi Oanh said. She is the daughter-in-law of Sam, who has also been recognised as an artisan of the Vietnamese handicraft village.

Beside traditional paintings, Oanh has also created a few topics such as "Painting Market at Tet", "Duo Singing on Boat" and "Countryside Village". She has also made animal paintings suitable for each year such as cute monkeys for this year (the year of Monkey).

Oanh said, her family has continuously upgraded the look and quality of paintings to attract customers. Her products are enclosed in glass frames of stick on bamboo boards to facilitate hanging.

"Through my increasing number of customers, I realised that many modern people like the simple beauty of Dong Ho paintings, especially at Tet," she said.

The sounds of Dong Ho painting clatter in Song Ho village throughout the year now, signalling a strong revival of the traditional craft village.

Bac Ninh is compiling a dossier seeking for the UNESCO’s recognition of the genre as part of the intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent protection.-VNA