NATURAL QUALITIES

Bien Hoa pottery is popular for its special enamel colours and is highly artistic.

By Ngoc Linh on July 15,2018 10:31 AM

NATURAL QUALITIES

Ngoc Linh

THE WHOLE FAMILY CAN COME TO BIEN HOA FOR A VISIT. FACTORY OWNERS AND WORKERS ARE VERY HOSPITABLE AND ARE WILLING TO ANSWER ANY AND ALL QUESTIONS. VISITORS CAN ALSO GO TO DIFFERENT PARTS OF A POTTERY FACTORY TO TAKE PHOTOS OR LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ART OF POTTERY PRODUCTION, AND CAN EVEN ROLL UP THEIR SLEEVES AND LEARN HOW TO MAKE SOME POTTERY.

First produced almost 300 years ago, Bien Hoa pottery from southern Dong Nai province has since been among the most famous in Vietnam, especially thanks to its brown glazed and unglazed earthenware. In the opening decades of the 20th century it earned a solid reputation internationally, winning gold medals at international pottery exhibitions in places such as Paris and Indonesia.

According to researchers and pottery collectors, Bien Hoa pottery is a mixture of Vietnamese, Chinese and French styles and even the style of the Cham people in central Vietnam.

One of the most famous enamel colours of Bien Hoa pottery is its special green, called vert de Bien Hoa, while blue, red, and white also have renown.

Located on an area of more than 1,000 sq m, the Hong Hung factory is one of dozens still working in Tan Van ward in Bien Hoa city. Pots, bottles and statues are displayed outdoors near the entrance, made in a 300-metre-long kiln nearby.

Its products give visitors a sense of how they were made centuries ago. The factory itself also looks quite old, with a roof covered in old-fashioned tiles with worn wooden frames, and Mr Hai, an employee who has worked at the factory for nearly 30 years, confirmed it is around a century old. Several of its wooden frames have been replaced over the years though no one is certain when. ‘A lot of photographers and couples come here to take photos, as they like the beauty of old objects,’ he added.

NATURAL QUALITIES

Though there are machines and moulds, Bien Hoa pottery is mostly handmade. Skilled artisans each take care of a different stage of production. It can take one artisan a day or two to finish a certain stage of production like shaping, inscribing, or elaborately creating figures of chicken or pigs. The colours and textures of its products depend greatly on the artisan working with the enamel. The quality of a finished product, meanwhile, is all down to the skill of the artisan in charge of fire control, because Bien Hoa pottery is all kilned with firewood. When fired, the kiln is filled with thousands of items in different shapes and sizes heated to over 1,200 C for four or six days.

‘Pottery made in Tan Van ward are all kilned with wood, creating the typical brown colour when clay and smoke mix,’ said the owner of another pottery factory in the ward. ‘Gas or electrical heating at industrial factories may shorten the kiln time and cut pollution but cannot give the pottery the colours created in the traditional way.’

Bien Hoa pottery is not only sold around Vietnam but is exported as well. Items for daily use, such as pots, water tanks, or stools with a round or rectangular top decorated with the figure of an elephant or other animal are common, but Bien Hoa’s fine art products are also famous. Its artisans began carving or adding images of folk art on the pottery more than two decades ago, creating a new product line that has been popular ever since.

It’s also famous for unglazed earthenware products with beautiful natural qualities. Sales, though, have been low lately and fewer orders are coming in. Twenty years ago there were hundreds of pottery factories in the southern reaches of Bien Hoa, in Hoa An, Vu Hoa, Tan Hanh and Tan Van wards, but now there are substantially fewer. Local authorities have decided to move all factories in the province to the Tan Hanh Pottery Complex, about 5 km from Tan Van ward, in a bid to curb pollution and preserve pottery production.

‘Pottery factories in an industrial park, like the Tan Hanh Pottery Complex, can only use gas or electricity for kilning’, one factory owner said. ‘Only wood heat can make products from dark clay like Bien Hoa. A gas or electrical kiln would also cost tens of thousands of dollars, which is too much for most of factory owners here.’

GETTING THERE

Bien Hoa pottery village is about 25 km east of HCMC. Visitors can go by road on their own or take a bus.

By road, pass over Saigon Bridge and take the Hanoi Highway to Dong Nai Bridge, then turn left into a street under the bridge and go 500 metres back the way you came. Turn right at the first T-junction and go along Bui Huu Nghia Street for 2 km.

Alternatively, take a No 603 bus from Mien Dong Bus Station or a No 604 bus from Ben Thanh Market and get off at the Tan Van T-Junction and take a taxi to the village, about 4 km away.

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