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[Photos] Once Upon a Time in Bát Tràng Ceramic Village

Back in the day, when Emperor Lý Thái Tổ relocated the capital from Ninh Binh to Hanoi, five famous pottery families followed. They settled in a region on the east bank of the Red River where there was good clay, and founded the Bat Trang ceramic village.

Today, more than 1,000 years later, the word ceramic is still synonymous with Bat Trang, which is a testament to the superb quality of the products there. Though the process may have changed somewhat throughout the years, the core principles remain the same. Bat Trang artisans still undertake their craft following the old adage: "Nhất xương, nhì da, thứ ba dạc lò" (First the bone, second the skin, third the furnace).

During the summers of 1991–1993, German photographer Hans Peter Grumpe came to Vietnam and visited Bat Trang village. His photos show the pottery process in vivid detail, depicting a nostalgic time when the creation of earthen wares was a purely hands-on process.

From the banks of the Red River.

Using molds to shape the "bones" of the ceramic pieces.

Unprocessed "bones."

Artisans paint every vase by hand.

Each prototype is meticulously given a layer of "skin."

Inside the painting workshop.

Vase-decorating is a social occasion.

Each vase could take hours to be painted.

Out to dry.

Preparing burning materials for the ovens.

Workshops huddling close to one another on the river bank.

[Photos by Hans Peter Grumpe via his website

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