Artist preserves and promotes traditional paintings
09:43 | 14/02/2021
VGP – Nguyen Thi Oanh has never tired of spending all day with her ‘treasure’ of colours, poohna paper and woodcuts. As the only female artisan from Dong Ho Painting Village, Oanh was recently awarded the title of “Meritorious Artisan” for her contributions to the arts.

Artist Nguyen Thi Oanh works on traditional folk paintings everyday.

Born and raised in 1960 in the village’s Song Hồ Commune, Thuận Thành District, Bắc Ninh Province, Oanh has spent nearly half a century working with traditional folk paintings.

Her works depict cultural beauty, social philosophies and humanitarian desires, while reflecting the essence and unique values of Vietnamese people.

Artist Nguyen Thi Oanh produces different products with Dong Ho paintings to introduce her hometown speciality to wider market.

The form of art developed in the village has recently been put forward for UNESCO recognition.

“I was born and grew up with painting. I painted everyday after school and learnt all the methods and secrets,” said Oanh.

“There used to be 17 painting families in the village, but due to various circumstances, but mainly the low income, many of them have quit, leaving only the Nguyen Đang and Nguyen Huu clans.

“I feel really lucky as I am the daughter of Nguyen Dang and daughter in law of Nguyen Huu.”

Oanh is daughter-in-law of Nguyen Huu Sam who was the first person in the village to be officially recognised as an Excellent Artisan and also the first from Bac Ninh Province’s 62 craft villages.

He has led the drive to preserve folk painting by collecting and restoring old woodcuts while creating new ones, and teaching people technique of woodcut printing.

Artisan Sam decided to retire in 2010 and Oanh took charge of his facility.

“He chose me as one of his two successors to hand down all of his skills and equipments,” said Oanh.

“The more I work in this field the more interested it gets because it dates back hundreds of years and is a treasure of Vietnamese history and culture,” she said.

Like her father-in-law, Oanh uses old woodblocks to paint famous pictures such as Lon Dan (Pigs), Ga Dan (Chicken) and Dam Cuoi Chuot (Rats’ Wedding) along with more than 40 new themes such as Village Festival, But Thap Pagoda and Painting Market in Tet.

Artist Nguyen Thi Oanh has been working for about half of a century to preserve Dong Ho traditional folk paintings.

She also tries to hand down the techniques to people interested in the art form.

“Dong Ho paintings feature different topics such as legendary characters, landscapes and daily activities. They wish for happiness, wealth and good crops and husbandry,” said Oanh. 

There are five main colours used in the paintings. The paints themselves are made from natural materials such as flowers, plants and ash. 

Each colour has its own wood printing block, so a painting with five colours needs five blocks. Layers of colours are printed step by step in order of red, green, yellow, white and black.

It can takes artists weeks to compete a painting depending on how complicated it is.

Oanh has proved that Sam made the right choice by taking Dong Ho painting to higher level.

These works have spread far and wide, and Oanh has held shows at big exhibitions with visitors including former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

She has also produced new products such as notebooks, postcards and calendars to reach a wider market, and sells wooden blocks and patterns so tourists can have a go themselves.

Her efforts were recognised locally and nationally in 2014 with the titles “Bac Ninh Province Artisan” and “Artisan of Vietnamese Craft Village”. Her most recent title awarded by President Nguyen Phu Trong. made her the only female Meritorious Artisan in Bac Ninh.

“It is a pride and honour for my hardwork to become known so widely,” said Oanh, who admitted that although she does not make much money from painting, she would never give it up.

“I love introducing our painting to all corners of the country and further beyond. I hope this type of painting will live on no matter how society changes and develops. ”./.

By Ha Giang

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