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Dong Ho folk painting artisans in the Song Ho village of Thuan Thanh district, the northern province of Bac Ninh are increasingly busy during the days immediately preceding the Lunar New Year (Tet), as more and more people have become fascinated by this centuries-old art form.

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. 

Traditionally, craftsmen used raw materials from nature, making sheets of paper from the bark of the “do” (poonah) tree and mixing colours using soil, burnt bamboo leaves, and sea shells. 

According to Nguyen Nhu Dieu, Chairman of the Song Ho People’s Commune where Dong Ho painting originated, only three local families had previously maintained the craft, but its popularity revival has incited stronger engagement of more villagers. 

In the workshop of Nguyen Dang Che, a 20th generation local artisan, seven craftsmen were rushing to complete their Tet orders. 

According to Che, Dong Ho paintings were previously sold on only six market days during Tet, but now, demand for the paintings is high throughout the year and surges during Tet.

Each day his workshop welcomes dozens of visitors and customers, he said. 
The most popular painting this year in his shop, “Honour and Wealth”, signifies hopes of prosperity, happiness and longevity. 

He revealed that his family possesses thousands of copies of 200 different paintings to meet Tet demands. 
Calendars with Dong Ho paintings on them are also in vogue, said Che, adding that since October of last year he has sold thousands of the calendars. 

Che has also engaged in a 60 billion VND (2.86 million USD) project to preserve and uphold the cultural heritage value of this art form, recently approved by the provincial People’s Committee. The project will run from 2014 to 2016. 

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.

Source: VNA

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