Who: Nguyen Van Binh
Where: Bat Trang, Hanoi, Vietnam
The village of Bat Trang in Vietnam, is known for its intricate lotus tea sets, blue and white dragonfly bowls, and durable, beautiful dishes. Bat Trang just might be Vietnam's most famous ancient craft village, and its handmade ceramics can be found in stores globally, including IKEA, Target, and 10,000 Villages.
You've explored Bat Trang itself. But just how is its pottery made? Come take a closer look at the daily work in this village of pottery-makers.
Meet Nguyen Van Binh
Nguyen Van Binh grew up on Bat Trang and learned how to make pottery from his father. He and his wife own a pottery-making factory right in the middle of town that makes all sorts of shapes and colors of pottery. They have about 10 workers filling orders for Italy, France, Japan, Korea, Australia, and other countries as they come in, and his workshop churns out pottery every day except holidays.
How Pottery Is Made
The most difficult step of making pottery is also the first step: interpreting what a customer wants in their order. Once the size and shape of the pottery has been determined, the color of the glaze decides the type of clay Binh will use. His favorite part of making pottery is making glazes, because, as he says, he gets to make something new.
Clay: Dyed, Shaped, and Dried
The clay is then dyed for the order and refined to keep the finished product smooth. Then, the clay is either poured into a mold, or, if the order specifies that the products be handmade, it's spun on a wheel. Foreigners tend to value handmade products. Then, they're all double-checked for balance and evenness, and then stored while they dry.
Pottery: Decorated, Glazed, and Fired
Once dry, the pieces are individually cleaned up and smoothed, eliminating any jagged edges. This process creates a lot of dust, and each piece gets a thorough wipe-down before it goes to the next step: decorating. This might be done with stickers, a carving tool, or a paintbrush, depending upon the final product.
Once decorated, the pottery is glazed, and then it goes back for another round of cleaning and glazing. The last step is to fire the pottery and, if the order calls for it, stamp the bottom with the customer's symbol.
In all, it takes about four days to finish a piece and about one week to fill an order. Binh's pottery tends to be sold under other names, so his dragonfly stamp representing Bat Trang doesn't usually mark his work. But Binh is still happy to let his work represent Bat Trang; the potters of the village hold the soul of the village, he says, and he's proud to be part of a friendly community devoted to such a diverse art.
Order Pottery from Nguyen Van Binh
To see more of Binh's pottery and make an order:
Thanks, Binh, and translator Thu Duong!
(Image credits: Lisa Pepin)