Having revived the art of phap lam, a technique of enamel painting and carving on metals, in early 2000, artisan Do Huu Triet then adapted it to silver and gold to make fashionable jewellery pieces, interior décor items, and paintings.
Necklaces, earrings, curtains, and paintings can all be decorated with enamel, creating unique and practical fashion items and gifts.
By changing from copper to non-oxidising silver and gold, enamelled jewellery and paintings no longer need to be properly stored and preserved.
“It’s a new option in the art form’s long existence,” Triet explains. “Bronze or copper easily oxidises in Vietnam’s tropical climate. Verdigris (greenish pigment) is found on the surface of bronze or copper objects after a time and requires cleaning.”
“Enamelled bronze jewellery is often heavy and dark in colour compared to silver and gold. So I tested the technique on new materials to promote it among fashionistas.”
The Hue-born artisan says it takes time to design the models and cast the moulds of the tiny patterns on earrings and necklaces.
“It’s finicky and skills are needed in adjusting the temperature in the thermal oven to retain the original colour of the enamel on the tiny designs,” he explains.
“I want to renew the phap lam art form by creating fashionable jewellery and souvenirs based on the ancient art. Enamelled jewellery can help highlight suits and dresses at fashion shows or performances, while promoting the original culture and heritage of Hue.”
Lotus flowers and images of the former imperial capital city are the main focus of enamel paintings at Triet’s workshop near Dong Ba market -- a popular spot for tourists on the banks of the Huong (Perfume) River.
“Most paintings are created on laminated copper and covered by ceramic enamel before kilning at temperatures between 850 and 1,000 degrees Celsius for the preservation of colour and materials,” Triet says.
“I succeeded in melting down metal with ceramic enamel on paintings in the oven. By tuning in the temperature, bronze, ceramic enamel can be affixed to silver and gold. It’s a unique skill and ancient know-how of Hue.”
It’s not easy, however, because metal and enamel cannot mix under normal conditions and the two need a matching point in temperature to become a brightly-coloured artwork.
“The unique skills and secrets of the old art of Hue withered away in the past,” says Tran Nam Long, a skilled worker at the enamel painting workshop.
“As tourism boomed, the art form emerged as an attraction and gained extraordinary focus from tourists. We revived it not only for ourselves but also out of pride for Hue’s ancient culture.”
He adds that tourists should know the story of the art, as they do with UNESCO-recognised world heritages like the complex of Hue monuments and Hue folk music.
The enamel painting gallery on Chi Lang Street is a centre of 10 artists mostly creating souvenirs, paintings, and interior décor items as well as working on relic restoration projects.
Nguyen Quoc HIeu, an artist, says the art form is being revived well in the modern world.
Artists in Hue have given the pháp lam art form a facelift and boosted its popularity in the tourism hub.
“We design and produce numerous pieces of enamelled artworks, including jars, paintings, home décor items and souvenirs,” HIeu says. “It’s a renovation of old cultural features with a modern touch.”
Each piece, he says, costs a reasonable VND1 million (US$43) to VND3 million (US$130).
The innovative products are a different option for tourists seeking to take a piece of Hue home with them.
HIeu says phap lam -- a Hue specialty -- has been used on lacquer, glass, and wood to diversify the products on offer.
According to the management board of the complex of Hue monuments, the art form emerged in Hue under the reign of Emperor Minh Mang from 1827 but had faded by 1842.
Enamelled objects from the previous century remain on display at the Hue Fine Arts Museum and on roofs of buildings of the Royal Palace and in the ruins of the tombs of Emperors Minh Mang and Thieu Tri.
Triet says some new homes in the city are also decorated with phap lam artworks on the walls, ceilings and curtains.
Enamelled pieces of jewellery were worn by models wearing ao dai (the traditional Vietnamese long robe) at a fashion show held as part of the Hue Festival in 2012.
"The Hue phap lam enamel painting art can brighten up traditional fashion collections at big shows as well as decorate costumes at events and parties,” Triet says.
“Enamelled gifts can help Hue create an amazing image of itself among international guests at diplomatic meetings or other gatherings.
The Vietnam Fine Arts Exhibition 2020 is scheduled to be held in November, the Department of Fine Arts, Photography and Exhibition has announced.