Age-old artisan keeps the glow of ‘keo quan’ lanterns alive

Thursday, 2018-09-20 09:38:53
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Artisan Nguyen Van Quyen (R) amid the warm glow of two keo quan lanterns made by himself (Photo: Vietnam Pictorial)
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NDO – Artisan Nguyen Van Quyen from Dan Vien hamlet, Cao Vien commune, Thanh Oai district in Hanoi, is one of the last few artisans who are masters of the art of making ‘keo quan’ lantern, a traditional hand-made lantern with vivid rotating paper-cut figures on the cover. Despite his old age, Quyen still works steadfastly to preserve the traditional craft.

Quyen said that he learnt about the making of keo quan lanterns from his father when he was a little boy. Most of the children in his village in the past could make a keo quan lantern by themselves to play when the Mid-autumn festival came around.

Nowadays, as society has developed and children are provided with a tonne of high-tech toys and online games, simple and traditional handicraft toys like a keo quan lanterns seem to attract less interest.

Looking back on the 1990s, keo quan lanterns were one of the most exciting toys for children during the Mid-autumn festival, recalled a wistful Quyen. However, lanterns made in Dan Vien hamlet are less popular in today’s market.

The keo quan lantern in Dan Vien hamlet often have a hexagon shape with its bottom having a rounded shape, they are all made with bamboo. Glossy glass paper is then glued onto the inside rectangles of the frame, and images of people, animals, and landscapes are stuck onto four or five layers on the outside cover of the lanterns to create vivid rotating characters.

The lanterns can rotate thanks to an axle in the middle. When a candle is lit inside the lantern, a convection with a countercurrent of hot air inside the lantern and cool air outside is created to make it move.

A small-sized keo quan lantern usually costs from VND 100,000 - 120,000 from a craftsman with around eight working hours.

Quyen said that the making of keo quan lanterns helped children exercise patience, carefulness and creativity.

Artisan Nguyen Van Quyen (R) gives instructions to young people on how to make keo quan lantern at a programme hosted by the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology (Photo: Vietnam Pictorial)

Over recent years, Quyen has been invited by the the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology Vietnam Exhibition Centre for Culture and Arts (VECCA) ahead of Mid-autumn festival to give instructions to visitors, particularly children, on how to make keo quan lanterns.

He has also received invitations from schools to help students play and make traditional toys.

Quyen is currently working with the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology for the compilation of a book on Vietnamese folk games as a way to preserve his village’s traditional craft for younger generations.

In recognition of his contributions, Quyen was recently nominated by the Hanoi City’s Culture and Sports Department to receive the title of ‘Meritorious Artist’.

Quyen said that he hopes to pass down his understanding and knowledge of Vietnamese folklore culture for those who are interested, thus raising their awareness of safeguarding the country’s heritage.