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We will be introducing new handicrafts to Wild Tussah lovers – Vietnamese handmade ceramics! In order to bring you the best and most unique products with a story, we have traveled to the Southern regions of Vietnam, looking for ceramic villages. It’s where the traditions that are hidden from the rest of the world are still kept alive. After months of searching, we finally came across a ceramist at a Bien Hoa pottery exhibition, and had the privilege of visiting his beautiful workshop. We are proud to bring you our talk with Mr Dinh Cong Viet Khoi, professor at Dong Nai College of Decorative Arts, about his work.
In a few sentences, could you please tell us where you are from and how you got started?
My hometown is in Bien Hoa City, Dong Nai Province, a land with unique pottery traditions. I started learning pottery with the help of my father, about 20 years ago. He was a great ceramist who had been working for a Vietnamese ceramics company since 1976. I graduated from the Dong Nai College of Decorative Arts and I’m also working as a professor there. Before my college studies, I had already been able to make ceramics to earn money. I attended the school to further develop my skills, and to broaden my knowledge in the field. I love making pottery and I’m passionate about preserving this beautiful tradition for future generations.
How long does it take a person to learn this skill from zero?
Well, it takes at least 3 years with a lot of practice to be able to make pottery products. And a couple of more years to be really good at it – depending on your own ability. You’ll learn from your mistakes, so the more you practice, the more you will be able to improve your skills.
What is the whole process that is involved to make pottery?
The first step is shaping (forming) a product by hand-throwing clay on the wheel. Then you might want to decorate your creation with glaze. Finally, you have to fire the product at 1210 degrees Celsius for about 11 to 12 hours. It takes me an entire day to finish just one mug. Beside the actual crafting process, a ceramist should have strong knowledge about mixing clay and glaze, to create their own type of product.
What is your favorite kind of pottery to make?
I have experience in making homeware ceramics using Bien Hoa techniques and glaze.
What are some of the most important factors to creating high quality ceramics?
Clay, glaze and fire are the three most important factors to creating high quality ceramics. But that’s not enough. A skilled ceramist should create pottery that is in good shape, without any cracks, and covered by a flawless glaze. With ceramics, you can only end up with either 100% excellent products or scraps; there’s nothing in between. Your product should be perfect and usable, or it’s considered a waste.
What is the difference between Bien Hoa ceramics and other Vietnamese ceramic villages’ products?
Basically, the difference lies in the clay. Every region has its own type of clay, which makes their particular ceramic products stand out from the rest. Another notable difference is the glaze color. Among Southern ceramics lines, Bien Hoa ceramics is the one that features the most glaze colors. Some of the colors are are recognized and favored by Western people. But the most typical difference is the aesthetic in every product. Bien Hoa ceramists care more about their creations’ intricate details, hand painting patterns and the perfection of each piece’s shape.
What type of clay do you use to make ceramics?
I use white clay in the Tan Uyen, Binh Duong. That‘s a high quality source of clay in the area.
What can you tell us about the unique glaze colors of Bien Hoa ceramics?
There are many glaze colors, which have been created by Bien Hoa artisans in the early 1900s. But the most stunning among them is the ‘Xanh Đồng Trổ Bông’ (Vert de Bien Hoa). This color is like turquoise or jade green, with little dots on the surface, which brings an instant vintage look to an object. The glaze’s chemical formula was developed by combining local materials in the 1930s. It’s close to the popular celadon glaze of China, which is greatly appreciated by ceramic lovers around the world.
Finally, how do you see handmade ceramics and mold-made ceramics?
For people who know how to enjoy the beauty of ceramics, a handmade piece will always look more charming, as it has more soul in its design. It’s more like a work of art than just a simple product. For me, mass produced ceramics cannot compare to handmade ceramics in terms of aesthetics.
If you have any questions about Bien Hoa ceramics or Vietnamese ceramics in general, feel free to leave a comment in the box below. We’d love to hear from you! And a big thank you to Mr Khoi for speaking to us about ceramic traditions in Vietnam.