Thái Hà (1922 – 2005)
Thái Hà was born as Nguyễn Như Huân on 18 December 1922 in Tân Hồng commune within the Từ Sơn district, Bắc Ninh province. Tân Hồng commune is a famous lacquer village and young Huân regularly visited artisans in the village to learn about lacquer techniques. In 1940, he started his preparatory studies in Hanoi at the École des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine under the tutelage of Joseph Inguimberty. In December 1943, with the advent of American bombing of Japanese occupying forces in World War II, Huân was evacuated along with his painting classes to Sơn Tây. In Sơn Tây, he continued his studies and, in 1944, joined what was to become the last intake to the senior course, where his classmates included Phan Kế An and Dương Bích Liên. Tô Ngọc Vân became his principal teacher.
When the École des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine closed in March 1945, before Huân had time to complete his studies, he returned to Hanoi to work for the fledgling Việt Minh regime. Not having any accommodation in Hanoi, he intended to return to the countryside but one of his friends advised him to join the army to have accommodation for painting. He did so in August 1945 and was assigned to a military training course before being selected to join forces heading south. After most of his troop was wiped out by disease and battles in the central Việt Nam highlands in 1946, Huân was assigned responsibility for propaganda activities.
In 1954, after the defeat of the French at Điện Biên Phủ, Huân returned to Hanoi and was rewarded with a one year trip to Eastern European countries. At the end of his stay, with the authorities needing skilled staff for cinema, he was asked to go to the Soviet Union to study art design at several leading cinema schools. He returned to Vietnam in 1959 where he taught cinema art design. After studying at the Nguyễn Ái Quỗc political institution for key communist party members, in 1964, Huân was commissioned to return to the south of Vietnam to manage the ‘liberty art department’.
Due to the secrecy of the assignment, his name was changed to Thái Hà. From 1964, until the end of the war in 1975, Thái Hà lived and worked primarily in the south, creating many sketches and images of the daily life of villagers and soldiers. Alongside artists Huỳnh Phương Đông, Trang Phượng and Nguyễn Thanh Châu, his works became some of the most widely published and exhibited from the war.
As a specialist in lacquer painting and coromandel, Thái Hà created many small lacquer works that were given to foreign delegations as gifts by diplomats in Hanoi between 1971-75. After the war ended, he became deputy head of the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Association and a full-time artist after 1999. He is widely recognised as one of Vietnam’s most talented coromandel (engraved lacquer) artists. He died on 12 October 2005.