“Nga Son straw-mat, Bat Trang pottery
Nam Dinh fabric, Ha Dong silk.”
Bat Trang Ceramic Village is located on the outskirts of Hanoi, part of Gia Lam District, and is the most popular ceramic village of Vietnam. Bat (鉢) means bowl and Trang (場) means yard. Therefore Bat Trang is the specialized area for bowl making. However, some also say that there are two parts in Bat (鉢), the first is kim – 金 which means wealth and the other is 本 – root. Thus, in the words of village elders, the forefathers have put hope that the descendants will still remember their roots once successful in the name Bat Trang. Through many ups and downs, the spirit of the village still remains in each ceramic product. Perhaps because of that, whenever ceramics is mentioned people always think of Bat Trang. Many tourists and Vietnamese expatriates who come here often acquire a set of Bat Trang bowls, because Bat Trang ceramic is not only an ordinary type of goods but also the quintessence of Vietnamese crafts.
The history of Bat Trang Ceramic Village
According to archaeological records and bibliographies, the village began to form under the Ly Dynasty (15th century). In 1010, when King Ly Thai To moved his capital from Hoa Lu (Ninh Binh) to Thang Long (Hanoi), it became the political, economic, and cultural center of the country. From there, a series of peri-urban villages also gradually developed, which include ceramic ones. Despite the lack of scientific studies on ceramics and Bat Trang Village, the craft without a doubt existed before the village. Thanks to favourable transportation conditions for industrial and commercial development and 72 kaolinite mounds – a good source of raw materials for ceramic production – with the King’s approval, ceramic craftsmen from villages of Vinh Ninh Trang, Bo Xuyen, Bach Bat (Thanh Hoa-Ninh Binh) came to Bach Tho Ward to open the business and form a village. Afterwards, the name was changed to Ba Trang Ward and finally Bat Trang in the 14th century to this day.
Bat Trang ceramic production process
Bat Trang Ceramic Village specialized in producing ceramics of all types, styles, and sizes. By function, they can be categorized into the following groups: for religious items, there are censer, lampstand, candlestick, wine bottle; for household items, there are bowl, plate, kettle, pot, jar. Through the skillful hands of artisans, every product is refined and lively with distinctive glaze lines and beautiful decorative patterns. Bat Trang ceramic has its own kinds of glazes ranging from the brown and white celadon to the cracked glazes with brownish-grey and porous body. In addition to the villagers’ experienced workmanship, products here are also finely crafted under a stringent procedure. In order to have a finished ceramic product one needs to go through 5 basic steps:
- Selection, processing, and preparation: First and foremost, the selected kaolinite must have high plasticity, be fine-grained, and especially hard to dissolve in water. During processing, people will add kaolinite to varying degrees depending on the type of ceramic. The clay is tempered just enough to have the plasticity for shaping.
- Shaping: Every Bat Trang ceramic product is shaped by hand on a potter’s wheel. This is also the traditional ceramic shaping method of Bat Trang. The craftsman uses both of his hands to press and pull on the wheel. Whether the product is big or small, thick or thin is all determined by eyes and hands, without any mould and only with minor inconsistency.
- Drying: The drying method of Bat Trang involves using natural wind and sunlight. Nowadays, Bat Trang artisans usually dry the items with kilns by increasing the temperature gradually until water evaporates. During drying, it must be ensured that the products are not overdone, cracked, or losing their shapes.
- Decorating: The artisans of Bat Trang adorn the items with patterns and designs using manual methods. To be specific, they will use markers to directly decorate them. To ensure the aesthetics and enhance the artistic values of the items, they will add in other methods of carving, painting, and applying glaze. Lately, the village also features the technique of clay body painting and flower-printing. These two methods are beautiful but not traditional in Bat Trang, thus are not considered the arts and creations of Bat Trang ceramic heritage in particular and Vietnam in general.
- Glazing: When the crude product is finished, glazing can be done either directly onto it or after the craftsman preheat it at a low temperature. There are various glazing techniques such as spraying, pouring on top of a large clay body surface, or dipping smaller ones, etc.
- Firing: This is an extremely vital stage in the process of making ceramics because it is crucial to the quality of the product. In other words, the success or failure of a batch is determined at this stage. This is also why before firing up the kiln, the craftsmen always light three joss sticks to pray for heavens and earth and the fire god’s blessings.
It can be argued that the products of Bat Trang Ceramic Village are the culmination of hard work, craftsmanship, and artistic ability. With all their wits and will, they have preserved their craft – a valuable heritage of their forefathers – so that there is still an essence of Vietnamese crafts to this day with great national pride. Coming to Bat Trang Ceramic Village, tourists are not presented with only beautiful ceramic products but also the production process and the chance to make it themselves.
Reaching world level
With a long history and outstanding quality, Bat Trang ceramic is no longer foreign to domestic and international people. Its product is getting more and more diverse. Alongside traditional products, Bat Trang ceramic workshops also produce many new designs to meet domestic demand and export to Asian, European, and American markets. Therefore it can be said that ceramics in general and Bat Trang Village in particular is a great pride of the Vietnamese people.
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