Yet, it is not easy pursuing this art. Even in Ha Thai Lacquer Village, there were only around a hundred households still practicing the craft, and it is even rare to find among those an artisan that mastered the techniques of Vietnamese lacquer like those in his family. “Vietnamese lacquer is very complicated”, he shared. It began from the wax tree itself. This type of tree is not popular, and must be collected only from Tam Nong commune in Phu Tho province. Extracting the tree sap also requires a great deal of work, as it must be harvested from midnight until dawn – around 2 to 4 a.m, because as the sun comes up, it will dry the sap. Then there is the paint: Vietnamese wax trees are not particularly more special than those of Japanese, Chinese or Russian origins. They produce a limited range of colours: vermilion, brown (“cockroach-wing”) and black. Yet, like fine wine, it gets better with age – the colours bolder and more vibrant, the finish even more exquisite. “The sheen of natural lacquer is authentic, it comes from the process itself. With modern paint that sheen is artificial, a coat that will wear out with time”, he shared.
Perhaps it is that finesse and hardship that act as the motivation as well as a challenge for the artist’s loyalty to the craft. And yet wax trees were only the first steps in the process: to complete a lacquer art piece can take months, sometimes up to several years.