Ceramics in Vietnam

The production of ceramics (nghề gốm) in Việt Nam has a long history dating back to ancient times. It first appeared during the Bắc Sơn period (4th-3rd centuries BCE), though it was to remain largely functional until the Đồng Nai period (2nd century BCE) when the introduction of the potter's wheel made it possible to create items of quality and of varying size and shape, principally pots and vases decorated with geometrical patterns.

Between the 1st and the 6th centuries CE close contact with China ensured a steady stream of the latest technology. The introduction of enamel coating was one of the most important advances of this period.

Ceramic production underwent vigorous development during the Lý era (1010-1225), when a great variety of pieces were produced, including both articles for daily use and enamelled pottery and porcelain ware. At this time the most important centre for ceramic production in the north was modern Thanh Hóa Province, some villages of which (notably Lò Chum) still preserve the ancient ceramic-making traditions today. Perhaps the most beautiful examples of the ceramics of this period are the celadon-like vessels of opalescent green and brown-grey. Other pieces, characterised by distinctive blue motifs on a white background, were highly decorated with flowers, dragons, birds and, where the surface permitted, frescoes and landscapes with human figures.

Tran ceramics (Viet Nam History Museum)By the Trần era (1225-1400) Đại Việt ceramics had become prized throughout the wider region and many richly decorated porcelain items were exported to China to be sold or presented at the imperial court. At this time foreign traders were frequent visitors to the port of Vân Đồn (modern Quảng Ninh Province) where they would purchase boat-loads of pottery and porcelain for export; as a result Vietnamese ceramics have been found as far afield as Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Turkey, Egypt and even Spain.

During the late 15th century the village of Bát Tràng (modern Bắc Ninh Province) was settled by ceramic artists from Thanh Hóa Province and became famous for its gốm hoa lam, white clay pottery decorated with blue motifs; today some 86 per cent of the households in this important craft village are still engaged in pottery production.

Chu Dau ceramics (VNA)Over the following centuries, as demand for high-quality pottery and porcelain increased, many other important ceramic production centres emerged throughout the country. By the time of the French conquest the most important ones included: Bát Tràng (Bắc Ninh Province), Thổ Hà and Phù Lăng (Bắc Giang Province), Hương Canh (Vĩnh Phúc Province), Chu Đậu and Cậy (Hải Dương Province), Đông Thành (Quảng Ninh Province), Đông Quang (Thái Bình Province) Lò Chum (Thanh Hóa Province) and Chợ Bộng (Nghệ An Province) in the north; Ngư Võng and Phước Tích (Huế), Thanh Hà (Quảng Nam Province) and Sơn (Bình Định Province) in the central region; and Chợ Lớn (Sài Gòn), Sa Đéc (Đồng Tháp Province), Biên Hòa (Đồng Nai Province), Thủ Dầu Một (Bình Dương Province), Châu Đốc (An Giang Province), Mỹ Tho (Tiền Giang Province), Vĩnh Long (Vĩnh Long Province) and Trà Vinh (Trà Vinh Province) in the south.

A catalyst in the emergence of the Mekong Delta as an important centre for ceramics production was the influx from the late 17th century onwards of large numbers of Chinese fleeing persecution by the Qing dynasty. Among them was a group of talented craftsmen who set up kilns in what is now the Chợ Lớn (Chinatown) District of Sài Gòn. By the late 19th century these kilns had become famous for a style of ceramics known as gốm cây mai, which found expression in a range of exquisitely designed religious statues, ornamental jars, incense burners, ancestral votive tablets and temple friezes.

Bien Hoa ceramicsIt is known that gốm cây mai artists were amongst the earliest teachers at the Biên Hòa Fine Art School (Trường Mỹ nghệ Biên Hòa, forerunner of today's Đồng Nai College of Decorative Arts), which was opened by the French in 1907; their influence is apparent in numerous extant pieces produced in Đồng Nai during the early years of the 20th century. During the 1920s and 1930s new technology was introduced into the school by its Principal Robert Balick, whose wife Marie (a graduate of the École des beaux arts de Limoges) devoted her enthusiasm and expertise to the development of the local ceramic industry. The result was a specialised blue-speckled copper and celadon glaze which was exported widely under the name vert de Biên Hòa.

In the north ceramics training was offered from 1934 at the École supérieure des beaux-arts de l'Indochine (Trường Cao đẳng Mỹ thuật Đông Dương) in Hà Nội. After 1945 it was transferred to the Middle School of Fine Art (Trường Trung cấp Mỹ nghệ, now the Hà Nội University of Industrial Fine Art). However, against a background of war and dislocation the ceramic arts were unable to develop significantly during this period.

In contrast, the 1950s and particularly the 1960s are remembered as a creative period for ceramics production in Sài Gòn. Two of the best-known ceramicists in the southern capital before Reunification were Lê Bá Đăng and Đỗ Nam, who established a very successful ceramics business. Đỗ Nam migrated to Australia in 1980s but returned to Việt Nam in the late 1990s.

After 1975 ceramic production fell into something of a decline throughout the country, but since the late 1980s there has been a significant revival.

Ceramics Hai Duong (Tim Doling)Today Việt Nam is one of the leading Asian exporters of heavy duty ceramic items, which are sold in garden centres across the globe.

In recent years there has also been a flowering of art ceramics; a Việt Nam Contemporary Ceramics Exhibition, organised in Hà Nội by the Việt Nam Fine Art Association in 2001, featured work by many of the country's leading contemporary ceramic artists. These included Vũ Đình Nhâm (Vũ Nhâm, b 1942, winner of a special prize at the 1996 Asia Ceramics Exhibition in Japan), Lê Ngọc Hân (b 1934), Lê Duy Ngoạn (b 1938), Đặng Đình Diệp (b 1937), Tống Như An (b 1941), Phạm Đắc Bảo (b 1943), Nguyễn Bảo Toàn (b 1950), Lê Quang Chiến (b 1954), Đẳng Thành Long (b 1954), Nguyễn Duy Nghiên (b 1956), Phạm Sinh (b 1958), Nguyễn Khắc Quân (b 1960) and Trần Khánh Chương (b 1943). Other ceramic artists featured in that exhibition included Nguyện Trọng Niết (b 1925), Nguyễn Trọng Đoan (b 1942), Ngô Doãn Kim (b 1942), Cao Trọng Thiềm (b 1942), Lê Thị Hiền (b 1943), painter Nguyễn Hồng Hanh (b 1947), sculptor Vũ Tiến (b 1943), Đặng Toàn Hưng (b 1954) and Ngô Bá Quang (b 1940).

Source: http://www.culturalprofiles.org.uk/viet_Nam/Directories/Vi_ACYAIw-7879_ADs-t_Nam_Cultural_Profile/-3670.html