World Threads

Overview - Embroidered Paintings - Silks & Woven Goods - Lacquer Ware - Ornamental Fans - Fashionable Scarves

How the Craft Village is Honored

by Tan Linh

[ Article Index ]

The embroiderers of Quat Dong know they are stitching the chronicle of their village

For years my friend had been urging me to visit his home village, Quat Dong in Thuong Tin District, Ha Tay Province; for years I’d promised to go. But somehow I never managed to travel the twenty kilometers from Ha Noi to Quat Dong until I was sent to cover an extraordinary occasion. The community was to receive an official declaration naming it a craft village and recognizing two local historic sites – the Communal House (the residents’ social and spiritual center) and their Buddhist pagoda.

I was skeptical. Here’s this village, I thought, with a history of practicing embroidery. My friend has often boasted of his neighbor’s skill. But what do villagers stand to gain from official testimonials? What the people need, I assumed, is investors to boost their production and then marketing experts to find distribution outlets. That would keep the craft alive, not flowery speeches and plaques on the wall.

However, the moment I entered the village, I saw a procession of palanquins and thousand of joyous citizens performing their traditional unicorn dance. I was immediately award that some intangible transformation had occurred; I could see pride in the people’s eyes to have their village craft honored.

The first palanquin carried an embroidered portrait of Ho Chi Minh. “Our local artist Pham Viet Tuong,” an older man said, “embroidered that portrait to remember Uncle Ho’s merits.”

I wasn’t prepared for the brilliance of these artisans’ skill at creating lifelike portraits and delicate landscapes, nor had I realized what stubborn determination kept the people working with their frames, needles and colored thread, generation after generation.

“Our craft has had its ups and downs,” seventy-year-old Mr. Pham Viet Dinh said, “but no one gave it up. We have embroidered folk paintings – that’s what the foreigners like – and parasols and wall hangings. Now we do portraits and landscapes. We embroider kimonos. We have man opportunities to develop.”

“The labor for a landscape on silk cost VND 2.3 million (US$153.00),” he told me. “But the same piece will sell for thousand of US dollars in Han Noi.” Quat Dong Village earns VND six billion (US$400,000.00) every year, two-thirds of which comes from traditional embroidery.

I had underestimated the importance of being recognized by the state. The honor being celebrated that day would translate into more publicity, more orders, more income. Some older people grumbled that the younger folks, regardless of talent, didn’t have a genuine feeling for their inherited art. The elders seemed to be looking for mangers to tap the elders’ honed skills and inspire, train and organize a new generation of artisans to maximize their ancestors’ legacy.

As the dances ended, I knew that, with all due respect to the laws of supply and demand, the power sustaining this craft community resided in some inner place personal to each artisan but expressed in collective faith. The portrait of Uncle Ho showed me this. Like scholarly writers of history books, the embroiderers of Quat Dong know they are stitching a chronicle for our people.

[ Article Index ]


Copyright © 2005, World Threads. All Rights Reserved.
Site Design: LuminEssence Studios.