Gold-leaf making craft in Kieu Ki

Gold-leaf making craft in Kieu Ki

Located on the northern bank of the Red River, Kieu Ki is known as the only village in Vietnam still practicing 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.

On the path to the village, visitors can hear locals hammering gold to produce thin sheets. Old and young alike are committed to the craft. 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.

After fading almost to extinction, the craft of gold leaf in Kieu Ki experienced a rebirth after the war. Some 30 households in the village are involved in the craft, which provides jobs for nearly 200.

Artisan Le Van Vong, whose family has handed down the craft through generations, became in 2004 one of the first two locals to be awarded title of Artisan by the State. Vong said, “We 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.

Tourist guide Nguyen Xuan Bach says: “I made a thorough study of craft villages like this because visitors kept asking me about them, their history and unique products. With my knowledge, I can now inform my foreign friends better about Vietnam’s craft villages.”

A visitor to the village, Le Tao shares his thoughts: “Hanoi is the hub of craft villages in Vietnam. Kieu Ky village is second to none in Vietnam. It produces the gold leaf that decorates statues in many temples and pagodas across Vietnam. Visitors are very eager to observe the unique skills of the craft’s artisans.”

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Category: Vietnam Discovery