GOLD - LEAF MAKING CRAFT IN KIEU KI
Kieu Ky is the only village in Vietnam where the sheets are made from pure gold and silver, called old sheets, used exclusive for products in the village. Craftsmen often start their work in the New Year on the 14th day of the first lunar month with a ceremony, during which a famous and skilled man, often ready to help villagers, is given the honor of making the first hammer strikes.
Kieu Ky - a suburb commune in Gia Lam District, has been well known beyond Vietnam’s border for its craft of painting gold and silver sheets that gives a shining. Located on the northern bank of the Red River, Kieu Ki is known as the only village in Vietnam still practic ing the traditional craft of producing gold leaf. The deftness of Kieu Ki artisans can be seen in pagodas and temples where statues are covered with thin gold leaf.
Coming to Kieu Ky, visitors find themselves in the busy life of the locals. Most of the villagers are peasants, but they hardly have any free time because, over 40 households engaged in the craft employ hundreds of the old and young alike.
The village elders believe Kieu Ki villagers learned to make gold leaf 300 years ago from Nguyen Quy Tri, a man from Hai Duong province, who gained his doctorate in the reign of King Le Canh Hung in the 18th century.
Tri became a mandarin and a member of the Royal Academy. As an envoy to the Qing dynasty in China, he learned the art of using thin gold sheets to trim red-lacquer devotional objects. After returning home, he passed the craft to Kieu Ki villagers, who proclaimed him the forefather of the gold leaf craft. His statue in the Kieu Ki village Temple inlayed with thin gold leaf is the joint work of his descendants.
According to artisan Le Van Vong, the village have managed to preserve the craft through many generations. I learnt the skills and techniques of making thin gold leaf and passed it down to my children and grandchildren. All the steps in the production process are equally important because gold leaf is extremely delicate”.
Artisan Vong says making gold leaf requires sophistication and patience. Craftsmen have to go through nearly 40 steps and all require manual dexterity. A good craftsman can create 1000 sheets of gold leaf, enough to cover an area of 1.2 square meters from just 3.75 grams of gold, a feat that cannot be matched by any machine. Visitors to Kieu Ky fascinated to observe all the craft’s meticulous steps.
In recent years, together with the growth of the economy, various pagodas, and shrines are being restored, creating a chance for the development of the craft in Kieu Ky, as the demand for the sheets skyrockets. Large volumes of the sheets are exported to Japan and Thailand, and this injects a new vitality to the craft. Kieu Ky craftsmen can feel proud because they have successfully restored and developed the unique legacy passed down to them by their ancestors.
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