I had no idea that using duck shells instead of other shells could be so critical in a process, that is until I heard the guide in a Vietnamese lacquer workshop describing the sills and intricacies involved in this ancient and highly traditional fine art, which I also learnt goes back many years in Vietnam though how long, nobody quite knows for sure.
What is known is that the amazing skills involved in the manufacture of Vietnamese lacquerware have been handed down in secret in families from generation to generation, for what may be thousands of years, with the art enjoying a revival in the first of the 20th century by the Indochina Fine Arts school in Hanoi, making Vietnamese lacquerware, famous all over the world.
Any visit to Vietnam would not be complete without a visit to a lacquerware workshop, where the highly skilled lacquer workers pore over pieces of lacquerware for many hours, perfecting the pieces, with sometimes the lacquer artists, lacquer painters and the many workers involved in the finished product having worked hundreds of hours on just one intricate piece.
In addition to duck egg shells, mother of pearl is important in lacquerware, with the duck shells and mother of pearl cut into many different tiny shapes only a couple of millimeters thick before being carefully located to make up the picture being created, with the addition of many layers of deep colours.
Oh and about those duck shells!
The reason duck shells are used in Vietnamese lacquerware is because of the thickness and whiteness of shells of ducks already hatched, with duck eggshells naturally white, with the Vietnamese lacquerware artist colouring the shell with pigments and dyes, then covering them with many layers, of lacquer, rubbed in water in between each layer and then finally polished to create the stunning lacquerware items and artworks we all know and love so much.
Enough from me about Vietnamese lacquerware, why not check out the real thing in the video below:
An on location report from ITE Ho Chi Minh City 2016 by John Alwyn-Jones