Historical stories

As a handmade product, rhamnoneuron papers are famous not only for their durability but also for their preciousness when being used for writing promotions to the official and high ranking mandarins. The Lai family in Hanoi has been recognized as one of the oldest families making this paper. Rhamnoneuron papers, formerly known as Long Dang papers (Long Dang means a dragon is flying, with Long as dragon, and Dang as flying), have been used for several hundred years. After opening them again after all this time, those rhamnoneuron papers were still as new as they were produced recently, proving their long lasting capability.


The local people at Dong Ho village have developed their own ways to make scallop rhamnoneuron papers for picture printing. Scallop here implicates the shells of scallop, a dead mollusk species of brackish water that can be easily collected by the local people. Scallop shells are pounded, dried, and made into a round shape. For scallop shells that are pounded heavily, the shells are mixed in a starch pan and stirred continuously. As pine brooms have been dipped in the liquid, the artisans will spread it on paper surface, leave it dried on a sunshine wall before it finally turns into a beautiful scallop rhamnoneuron paper.

Scallop rhamnoneuron paper, as stated by Mr. Nguyen Duc Hoa, an artist and an art researcher, is a product with Vietnamese origins that is used for printing the Dong Ho works of arts.

The rhamnoneuron paper had been formerly used for writing only as they are not recognized as an art material, even though the water penetration capability is better than Xuyen papers (a Chinese paper). However, when the artists realized that rhamnoneuron papers had more outstanding characteristics compared with other materials, especially with the oil-paint and lacquer, they have used this kind of papers more as they are more effective and longer lasting. If the workers know how to preserve them well, rhamnoneuron papers can be used for a long time as they are a handmade product that contain no alkali and self- decomposition substances.

The older the rhamnoneuron picture is, the more impregnated the color is. As the ultra small colors on rhamnoneuron papers smudge into each other, it will create newly magical colors on the surface that the human beings can’t make themselves. The 30 year and 40 year old Dong Ho pictures are a good illustration of this phenomenon.

During the studying time at Yet Kieu, I had the opportunity to lay my eyes on a marvelous pagoda sketch picture of Mr. Nguyen Trong Hop that was drawn in China ink. The extraordinary elegance of that picture has brought me to rhamnoneuron paper art for more than 20 years, extending my experience in this field as well as the awareness of its outstanding effect. Up to now, my achievements have been not so great apart from several gorgeous rhamnoneuron works of arts. At the time this art reached its golden age, most people tended to add rhamnoneuron paper to their collections; together with the greediness of many producers, this trend led rhamnoneuron paper quality went down unexpectedly. Finally, the rhamnoneuron papers were gradually forgotten and existed as normally as the silk papers.

As serene as the sounds of Dan Bau, rhamnoneuron paper plays an important role in bringing the Vietnamese culture into the world art integration. However, a vast majority of us still take it for granted.

The most prevalent reason for this could be explained due to the low quality of the current rhamnoneuron paper which contains very small raw rhamnoneuron when they are massively mixed with other normal paper flours. The pure rhamnoneuron paper can be easily distinguished thanks to its silky surface, ivory white color and great tearing strength. Even with a 7 layer rhamnoneuron paper, the user can smoothly separate various layers without leaving any scratch.

Instruction guide for rhamnoneuron paper :

The older the rhamnoneuron picture is, the more beautiful it will be for drawing. As in such a tropical climate like Vietnam, rhamnoneuron paper will experience through wetting and drying seasons continuously overtime, strengthening its softness and solidarity. When the rhamnoneuron paper has reached certain color absorption, the artist now can control its spreading degree.

The newly produced rhamnoneuron paper is usually hard as the starch has not been spread evenly, causing the paper surface hardened and limitation on water soaking. That’s why most of the artists often buy large amounts of rhamnoneuron paper for storage throughout the year. The ones used for painting are generally around 15 to 20 years old.

When they finally master the rhamnoneuron paper, the workers can be able to directly draw lines according to their wishes, either softly or toughly. Rhamnoneuron paper has an Asian soul, it only works well when being used moderately, and is likely to turn bad when being used by an anxious soul. In other words, rhamnoneuron paper should be used when the drawer knows the paper well, and uses it with a cool mind; on the contrary, the nervous craftsmen ought to stay away from rhamnoneuron paper until their soul becomes cool and focused again.

The main difference between rhamnoneuron paper and silk paper is the capability to correct painting mistakes. With rhamnoneuron paper, the new color cover can’t overlay above the failed one, as this will lead to the gloomy on its surface. Painting on slik paper, on the other hand, is also recognized as a way of placing various colors on the paper surface, the clients even are able to see through its tiny fibre.

There are two main ways to beautify the rhamnoneuron painting. First of all, rhamnoneuron paper can be put under the bed as that’s a good environment for papers to absorb water. Secondly, fresh water can be directly sprayed onto its surface, continuously through several wet and dry layers alternately. The wood-engraving pictures are also in the same boat, except for scallop rhamnoneuron papers as these kinds cannot contain moisture. Therefore, the rhamnoneuron papers are always soft and good looking.

Being covered with coloring agent, tempera, oil paint or acrylic paint, the rhamnoneuron paper now just plays a role as a background without being involved in any drawing and painting, as the coloring agent has spread all over the surface.

Scallop rhamnoneuron papers have good leak-proof surface, that’s why this kind of material is only suitable for engraving whereas inadequate for water color or coloring agent. It could be said that scallop rhamnoneuron paper is an exceptional creativity for our ancestors to do the most beautiful wood engraving arts.

In regards to spreading the coloring agent on rhamnoneuron paper, even though the surface will be stopped from breathing, the colour is still able to pledge into each other as the rhamnoneuron paper already contains some moisture itself. As the effective dehydration is performed, colors are easily to stay stably on the paper and prettify it. Mr. Nguyen Tu Nghiem, a famous artist in the old age, had made a rhamnoneuron paper of his son and kept it lasting long; at the present, several of his rhamnoneuron papers have become more and more pretty.

Soure: Do Duc



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