Nhan Dan –Son Dong fine arts village in Hanoi’s outlying Hoai Duc district is known as a dynamic craft village with enduring vitality, where talented artisans breathe fresh air into their products and enthusiastically promote their brand to the world.
The village is called a ‘village of artisans’ as it is home to more than 4,000 craftsmen, who earned their living with their skilful hands. Hundreds are young people, between 26 and 40, many of whom own well-developed shops with a large number of skilled workers. In a bid to keep the tradition of their ancestors alive, they have assumed a strong sense of responsibility in preserving and upholding the village’s brand name. They have improved their workmanship while learning from the experience of veteran artisans.
In 2011, a group of artisans proposed the establishment of the Association of Son Dong Fine Arts Village, whose mission is to bring together all craft businesses in the village to preserve the village’s essence and enhance their connectedness for mutual development. The association was also set up to create more jobs for local residents to reduce poverty and eliminate hunger in the locality.
“We have applied technologies into manufacture to diversify our products and meet customers’ demand. For example, wooden sculpted products are not limited in the shapes of Buddha, sacred objects and deities as they used to be in the past but they are developed in home decoration,” said Nguyen Danh Son, a Son Dong artisan.
Years ago, Son Dong faced the risk of losing its crafts. For decades, the people were quitting traditional crafts and turning to farming, scrap-iron purchase, lacquer production and embroidery. In addition, fierce market competition and the increasingly picky customers gradually pushed the village’s products out of favour. Fortunately, there were still a number of artisans who quietly preserved their crafts and handed them down to subsequent generations. Children studied at school and then came back home to learn the craft from their own fathers and grandfathers.
It has been said that it is difficult to point out the ‘spirit’ of a statue. Thus, handing down the professionalism of craft trades is teaching younger generations how to ‘carve’ their soul, love and passion for the occupation into their products.
“The selling of each kind of product depends on the customers’ financial situation. If their money is scant, they prefer budget products to expensive ones. On those days, despite reducing numbers of customers, low production, I still followed the craft and cherished the hope that our products would be much in demand in the near future,” recalled Nguyen Trung Vu, another Son Dong artisan.
Their love for the profession and their unceasing efforts to overcome these challenges were finally rewarded. Ten years later, the economic situation in the village improved, as their products were acknowledged nationwide.
In 2007, Nguyen Binh Hiep, owner of Loc Phat, received an order from the Vietnamese Embassy in the United States for a set of ritual objects and lacquered board for worship to introduce elements of Vietnamese culture to foreign friends.
Following that success, the village’s artisans have taken their products abroad, presenting them in Thailand and the US, as well as in European and ASEAN countries, drawing great interest from customers.
At the outset of the integration process, young artisans in the thousand-year-old village have set a target of developing their products in the domestic market while achieving a position in the abroad market.
“We produce spiritual products, which are highly appreciated by Overseas Vietnamese communities, so we aim to export more than 12% of our production”, said artisan Tran Quang Hung.
Since the beginning of this year, the Son Dong Fine Arts Village Association has organised a number of training courses on international trade and relations for the village’s artisanal enterprises. The association also plans to hold workshops for its members to exchange experiences with individuals with effective business models to help them earn more contracts.
The prestige and exquisite talent of Son Dong artisans can be seen in many places around the country. Their participation in the construction and decoration of Truc Lam pagoda in Kharkov city, Ukraine and One-Pillar pagoda in France is also clear evidence of their value.