Pottery families in Hue and Hoi An have a special job during the Lunar New Year season: making small relief sculptures of Vietnamese Kitchen Gods for a ritual that is held one week before the new year.
Vietnamese people believe that a trio of gods protects their families throughout the year.
They will leave on the 23rd day of the last lunar month – February 11 this year – to report to heaven on the good and bad things of the family during the whole year.
Legend has it that the Kitchen Gods are a trinity of a woman and her two husbands. After they were all killed in a fire, they were canonized as household gods.
To celebrate them, Vietnamese often put on the altar a small piece of clay work with the three gods sitting side by side.
Photo credit: VnExpress
A woman prepares clay, which is one of the hardest tasks in the whole process. Workers always use golden clay that is free of sand and rock particles.
A worker uses a knife to remove clay leftovers in a wooden frame used to make the reliefs.
The craft dates back hundreds of years but now is only practiced by a few families in Hue and Hoi An. Others have quit as they felt the price was not worth their labor. Pottery makers in Hue said dealers pay them VND500-2,000 (2-9 US cents) a piece while those in Hoi An are given a fixed price of VND1,000.
The pieces are let to dry before going through firing.
A worker lays out the pieces for firing. The task demands great care.
A woman adjusts the fire. There are hundreds of pieces in one batch.
It usually takes two days to complete one batch.
Workers started to paint colors on the gods several years ago.
But most are just painted in red, the traditional color.
The painted pieces are dried.
A boy watches his grandfather arranges finished reliefs under the sun. The workers from both places provide around 400,000 reliefs every Tet.
A man puts new Kitchen Gods on the altar in his kitchen.