Dong Ho paintings

Apr 10, 2018

On Tet in Vietnam, it is not hard to stroll around the streets and see vivid folk paintings hung in the stores. Those brightly colored arts are called Dong Ho painting – a glory symbol of folk culture in Vietnam. A long time ago, Dong Ho painting used to be a precious decoration to celebrateTet holiday; Vietnamese people bought Dong Ho pictures to hang them on their wall for a year, and then replaced them by new ones when a new year was coming. Though this practice has been less popular recently, Dong Ho paintings still hold an integral part in Vietnamese culture.

The village of Dong Ho is in Ha Bac, the province just north of Hanoi. Producing Dong Ho paintings is a trade of time-honoured tradition of this village. It is Dong Ho paintings that make Dong Ho village famous across Vietnam as well as in the world. The production of Dong Ho paintings is rather sophisticated.

It can be described as follows: 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.

  • 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.

  • The brush

The prints are painted with a beautiful brush made of spruce. The thet brushes are made from dried spruce leaves bound together. These brushes are made in a village not far away and come in various sizes. The leaves are pounded with salt water and a hammer to make the brush tip soft enough and are bound together and flattened at the top.

  • The paint

The folk art simplicity has strong and simple contours with bright colors that are made from dried bamboo leaves, the local fruits, flowers, and leaves. The paint is mixed in large earthenware pots. The colors are mixed by hand and each artisan has his or her own formula. Dong Ho paintings normally use bright colors like yellow, red, white since they are displayed on the occasion of Tet.

The content of paintings are also feature optimistic and funny folk stories or cultural history stories. They help bring about cheerful atmosphere for the house and tell younger generations old stories of the ancestors. The themes of happiness, good luck, fertility, good fortune and prosperity are common.

Dong Ho painting has been treasured by many generations for hundreds of years. It is not only an important art of Tet Nguyen Dan in Vietnam, it also sends out a message of a long-time culture from warm Vietnamese people.