Since 2021 is the Year of the Buffalo, artisans in Tan Vinh Hiep Commune of Tan Uyen Town in southern Vietnam are focusing on making clay models depicting this animal, no more so than at the pottery workshop of 63-year-old Nguyen Hong Hop.
Hop’s family has been renting this 2,500 square meter area to live and manufacture pottery products (mainly clay pigs) for nearly 20 years.
The workshop is at its busiest ahead of Lunar New Year holiday, or Tet which peaks on Feb. 12 this year, with around 3,000 products churned out daily.
“It’s been like this every year. Four months before Tet, I would order the mold for that year’s zodiac animal. This year I bought 1,000 buffalo molds with different sizes,” Hop said.
After an hour in the sun, the buffalo models are shaped, hardened and removed from their molds. The workshop uses around one ton of clay and other materials each day.
“After that, I use a knife to smooth out their edges then put them inside the kiln,” Hop said.
On average, a kiln handles over 3,000 products per day. Employees in Tan Uyen are mainly part-time workers from northern localities like Thai Nguyen, Hanoi and Hai Duong.
In another workshop, Ma Chien Quang collects clay buffaloes and pigs after 10 hours in the kiln.
“The standard for this product is perfect hardness without any burned spots after exiting the kiln. A truck collects the finished products on a daily basis,” Quang said.
The majority of clay products are transported to manufacturers in Thuan An Town of Binh Duong Province for painting and decoration.
Phuoc, a driver, said he had to travel 100 kilometers every day to bring 4,000 clay figures to manufacturers.
Vo Thi Thanh Ha receives about 2,000 clay products a day, to be decorated prior to the delivery deadline.
In a corner of the manufacturing facility, Ha, with 10 years’ experience, draws on the gold painted figures.
Artisans use powder paint because of its durability and fast drying capability. All products are typically coated with a layer of gold glitter.
According to Ha, the hardest step is drawing the eyes, noses and horns of clay buffaloes, which requires a steady hand.
This year, there are two sizes of golden buffaloes on the market, small and big. The small ones are more favorable, with the wholesale price for one set at VND20,000 ($0.86).