Section: Arts

Students learn art of Vietnamese lacquer painting with CGE

Students learn art of Vietnamese lacquer painting with CGE

CHAU ANH NGUYEN

On Oct. 19, Kenyon students were introduced to the art of Vietnamese Lacquer Painting (Sơn mài) through a workshop hosted at Hoehn-Saric House, home to the Center of Global Engagement (CGE).

The host was Chau Vu ’26, an international student from Vietnam. Vu has over 10 years of experience with Sơn mài, and she came to Kenyon excited to share her passion for the art form with the community. In consultation with the CGE, she came up with the plan of organizing a workshop during Global Engagement Week. 

The workshop attendees were first handed a black square wooden base called “vóc.” After watching a video tutorial, participants were free to experiment with the art form under the close guidance of Vu.

What sets Sơn mài apart from other types of painting is the use of eggshells: the painter must first break them and attach the fragments to the vóc using a specialized type of glue called “sơn ta.” After the eggshells have dried, the painter applies color on top of them and then sands the painting to create a smooth surface. Traditionally, this process of attaching eggshells, applying watercolor and sanding should be repeated four to five times for a glossy effect on the final product. However, due to the time constraints of the workshop, Vu decided to simplify the traditional meticulous process so that the participants could still take home a unique piece of art. 

As the room filled with the sound of students hammering the eggshells, everyone was deep in concentration. Many were surprised at the various unpredictable ways that eggshells can come apart. In an email to the Collegian, Leah Kessler ’24 wrote, “Depending on how hard, how many times or where you pressed or hit them with the hammer, the shells fractured in different ways that really had the potential to influence the artwork’s aesthetics. I just never thought of eggshells that way. I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere — maybe there is a certain beauty in breaking. Either way, it was a surprisingly peaceful process.”

That peacefulness is precisely what Vu wanted the students to take away from the experience, along with new knowledge about an unfamiliar art form rooted in another culture: “As someone who’s studying abroad in the [United States], I’m hoping that I can bring part of my culture [here],” she told the Collegian

As Kenyon strives to promote diversity and vibrancy within its art community, the Sơn mài workshop can serve as an example for one great way to do so. Looking forward, Vu said, “I hope that in the future, there will be more activities funded by Kenyon and hosted by artists from different countries focusing on international art like myself.”

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