Khmer glass painting, a unique craft in Soc Trang province
Update: Jul 21, 2023
Glass painting is a popular folk-art genre of southerners. If people in Lai Thieu in Binh Duong province, Cho Lon in Ho Chi Minh City, and Cho Moi in An Giang province make glass paintings in the Chinese style, the glass painting of Soc Trang province express Khmer culture.

A glass painting (Photo: Ngoc Anh)

Soc Trang’s Phuoc Thuan hamlet is famous near and far for making glass painting, which began more than half a century ago. The glass paintings of the Khmer people often are close to ordinary life and feature the life of Buddha, village scenery, natural landscapes, pagodas, or temples. They are used for altars or home decoration.

Nguyen Van My, Deputy Chairman of the Chau Thanh district People’s Committee, said that in addition to depicting landscapes, glass paintings also express popular sayings and legends for educational purposes.

“Khmer people follow Buddhism, so their glass paintings mainly center on Buddha and pagodas, and are inclined to the good. In the past, every Khmer household wanted to have a glass painting to make their house more opulent. The craft took shape from that need,” said My.

There was time when every family in Phu Tan commune knew how to make glass paintings, which were dried in front of the houses. The commune had 100 households engaged in this craft and their products were mainly sold in the Southern region.

But due to the development of technology and the increased competitiveness of other types of paintings, Phu Tan now has only one person left engaged in the craft – Trieu Thi Vui of Phuoc Thuan hamlet.

She said that although making glass painting doesn’t produce much income, she keeps doing it because of her passion and desire to preserve the culture of the Khmer people.

“I like the job very much and aspire to preserve and pass on the traditional craft to younger villagers so they can preserve it. Four of the 12 students in my drawing class show a good aptitude for drawing,” said Ms. Vui.

Ms. Trieu Thi Vui looks happy while making a painting on glass (Photo: Ngoc Anh)

Painting on glass involves many stages, a lot of skill, and a good eye for mixing paints. The painting is done on a layer of clear glass.

The most difficult part is drawing the eyes and mouth of the Buddha. The eyes must be soulful and the mouth must be smiling. When starting to draw, the painter makes a mirror image on paper, then puts the glass on top and draws border lines according to the paper pattern. This is technically called ‘separation’.

After that, the separated areas are painted in order from nearest to furthest. The background is last. After drying the painting in the sun, the painter can glue nacre, gold powder, or gold paper to add glory to the picture. Finally, the painting is coated with a protective layer, framed, and finished.

Ms. Vui underscored the need to prepare glass, paints, brush, and drawing samples, adding, “The special part of this type of art is reverse painting. Villagers of all ages used to make glass paintings and learned from their grandparents. This made it easy to maintain the craft.”

“The glass paintings of Phuoc Thuan hamlet, Phu Tan commune, are mainly about Buddha because the local Khmer people venerate Buddha. All households in the village have a painting of Buddha on the altar. The Buddha paintings are drawn according to a traditional pattern and are based on templates,” according to Ms. Vui.

To preserve and develop the craft, local administrations have provided vocational training and promoted glass paintings at trade fairs and exhibitions.

Pham Van Tuyen, Deputy Chairman of the People's Committee of Phu Tan commune, said that the local government has asked for a policy to help Ms. Vui preserve the glass painting craft.

“The commune has provided her a classroom to run vocational training courses for young people. We have also opened a vocational training class. Ms. Vui was taught by her grandparents and parents and she is the only person in Soc Trang province still engaged in this craft,” said Tuyen.

All stages of glass painting are still completely manual. Phu Tan glass paintings are durable. Glass painting is not only a traditional craft, but also a unique cultural feature of the Khmer in Soc Trang province.

Ngoc Anh

VOVWORLD - - July 20, 2023