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A Master Embroiderer

by Cynthia Weill

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Mr. Dinh has crossed from craftsperson to folk artists My many conversations with Pham Viet Dih, Quat Dong’s master craftsman, taught me so much about the history of embroidery in Viet Nam and also gave me a glimpse into the social and political history of Viet Nam during the 20 th century.

Mr. Dinh was born in 1932 as one of seven children. Like many fellow villagers, he traces his ancestry back to Le Cong Hanh, the Vietnamese ambassador who brought embroidery techniques back from China. For Generations, Mr. Dinh’s family has supplemented farming income with embroidery sales.

In 1946, the French attacked Quat Dong Village and surrounding communities to keep Ho Chi Minh’s supporters from retaining control of the country. The village did not resume its art until 1950. Mr. Dinh continued to embroider during collectivization but also farmed. His village elected him a model worker, and at the age of twenty-eight he met Ho Chi Minh. Mr. Dinh abandoned his craft throughout the American War while he farmed in Nge An.

In 1972 Mr. Dinh returned to Quat Dong and became the technical advisor and quality-control inspector for his own village and surrounding areas while they sold their embroidery to Russia, Poland, Bulgaria and other socialist nations. The villagers concentrated on making tablecloths, bedspreads and hand towels, but stopped exporting after the collapse of the Soviet Union. With doi moi (renovation) the villagers have concentrated on selling to tourists.

Mr. Dinh’s years of experience shine through his work. Close examination shows his great technical expertise, which is particularly apparent when one compares his work with that of a less-skilled artisan.

The facial features of characters of Mr. Dinh’s pictures are sharply defined, their outlines are clear and his stitches are smooth and flat. Indeed, Mr. Dinh has crossed from craftsperson to folk artist.

Mr. Dinh lives with his wife, son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren in a one-room farmhouse in Quat Dong. The family tradition will continue, for Mr. Dinh is teaching his ten year old granddaughter, Trang, who shows great promise. The affection between the two is obvious.

Although I have made many friends during my two years in Viet Nam, Mr. Dinh and his family are special. I hope the common bond we have formed through the art of embroidery will continue for many years.

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