Located on the northern bank of the Red River, Kieu Ky Village is known as the only village in Vietnam still practicing the traditional craft of producing a gold leaf. The deftness of Kieu Ki artisans can be seen in pagodas and temples where statues are covered with thin gold leaf.
Artisans are gliding golden statues
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 Lê Cảnh Hưng 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 inlaid with thin gold leaf is the joint work of his descendants.
Descendants of those locals now take his date of death, the 17th day of the eighth lunar month, as the annual chance to show their gratitude to the ancestor of the craft.
Nguyen Quy Tri - the forefather of the gold leaf craft
Craftsmen often start their work in the new year on the 14th day of the first lunar month with a ceremony, during which a famous and skilled man, often ready to help villagers, is given the honor of making the first hammer strikes.
Coming to Kieu Ky, visitors find themselves in the busy life of the locals. Most of the villagers are peasants, but they hardly have any free time because over 40 households engaged in the craft employ hundreds of the old and young alike. According to the artisans, this job requires experience, technique, and sophisticated work before becoming a sheet.
To get to the final product, it would take 40 phases. Each phase has its own complexity that requires 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.
1. Pine resin is mixed with gelatin glue processed from buffalo skin
2. The mixture is then mixed with special raw paper pulp (Quy paper) before it is cut into 4cm x 6cm pieces
A completed “Quy paper” must be covered with this mixture thrice and dried. Melted gold and silver is cast into thin sheets and then put between “Quy paper” and laminated into thinner sheets.
3. Small pieces of gold, sandwiched between those sheet, are hammered for nearly an hour before becoming complete products.
The final products: Each “quy” consists of 400-500 sheets of gold.
This is meticulous work.
The trickiest part, according to a craftsman, is making thin sheets. The more accurate the width and length of the sheets are, the more beautiful the gold leaf covered products will be.
Nearly 50 families in Kieu Ky produce “Quy paper”. Some families hire more than 20 workers
However, the role of a dexterous artisan in making strikes should not be overlooked. The pressure put on the leaves must be equal so that the moulds will not be out of shape.
The last stage of the work is to take the gold sheets out of the “moulds”, but this is by no means a simple task, as only a gentle breath would be enough to blow them away.
When you apply gold sheets on a statue, arrange them layers by layers carefully in order to create a flat, glossy golden statue.
It is literally a sophisticated job that demands many small, meticulous steps to make the final product. Apart from the 40 stages of gold leaf attachment, the job could take a craftsman another 20 stages to make, for example, a 24-carat golden statue.
Everything should never be done in a rush. That is why this profession is unsuitable for impatient people.
Each household in Kieu Ky village puts its own distinguishing characteristics on the products. That is why craftsmen can easily pinpoint who the manufacturers of the works are among their fellow villagers.
One of the typical gilded products of Kieu Ky village is the Bodhisattva Kwan Yin statue at But Thap Pagoda
Gold inlaid picture frame
Apart from the craft, Kieu Ki village is also renown for some mouth-watering dishes. Taking a tour with AZ Local Trip, visitors will be introduced to some local delicacies and taught how to cook them.
The ingredients to make the dish
Each 200g pack of “Nem nắm Giao Thủy” costs 35.000 vnd
Chicken feet served with spicy sauce
Everything is put into a container
II. Local tips:
III. How to get there?