Overview
Lacquerware in Vietnam

The art of lacquerware (nghề sơn mài) as a means of decorating objects was probably introduced from China during the first century CE. The lacquer itself is actually the resin of a tree which is mixed with coloured pigments and solvents and applied layer after layer to the object's surface, producing a shiny and durable finish. Other substances, such as eggshell and gold leaf, may be applied to the surface before the lacquer is applied, in which case the finished product is sanded down to reveal the decoration beneath. The high quality of resin from Vietnamese lacquer trees, notably those of Phú Thọ in the north, was a crucial factor in the rapid development of this art form, which became very popular at the court of Đại Việt during the feudal period. Decorated lacquer statues, panels, boxes and trays, some dating back to the Lê era (1428-1527), may still be seen at many temples and pagodas throughout the country.

In subsequent centuries the use of lacquerware was extended to larger items such as wooden chairs and tables, decorated with engraved, painted or inlaid mother-of-pearl (khảm xà cừ) designs. By the 18th century important centres for lacquerware production in the north included Nam Ngư (Hà Nội) and Bình Vọng (Hà Tây) in the north and Thủ Dầu Một (Bình Dương Province) in the south.

Nguyen dynasty screen (VN Hist Museum)As part of their strategy to open up Vietnamese handicrafts to new foreign markets, the French introduced formal training programmes in lacquerware at the Thủ Dầu Một School of Indigenous Arts (Trường Mỹ nghệ Bản xứ Thủ Dầu Một, now the Bình Dương Secondary Technical School) near Sài Gòn from 1901 and at the École supérieure des beaux-arts de l'Indochine (Trường Cao đẳng Mỹ thuật Đông Dương) in Hà Nội from 1930. It was the creativity of staff and students of the latter institution that led to the birth to a new hybrid form, Vietnamese lacquer painting (for more details see Contemporary art below).

Since that time lacquerware has continued to develop into one of the mainstays of the Vietnamese handicraft industry, both at home and abroad. Today's most popular items include vases, jewel cases, desk sets, trays and vertical blinds.

Source: http://www.culturalprofiles.org.uk/viet_Nam/Directories/Vi_ACYAIw-7879_ADs-t_Nam_Cultural_Profile/-3671.html