Wander on your own through the galleries on Hanoi's Trang Tien Street, and you will see refreshingly non-kitschy contemporary pieces, but rarely anything outstanding. To find the truly remarkable Vietnamese works of art, there's no better guide than Suzanne Lecht. Montana-born, Kansas-raised Lecht had been living in Tokyo for 11 years when her husband died suddenly. A former art student, gallery owner, and interior designer, she knew she wanted to stay in Asia and live among artists, but she couldn't figure out where. Then, in 1992, she had an epiphany. After seeing a photograph of two ancient Vietnamese men sipping tea in Hanoi's old quarter and reading about the capital as the cultural center of Vietnam, Lecht called her movers and said, "Pack me up, I'm moving to Hanoi." Lecht says she was struck by the "fragile, fading beauty of the city in stark contrast to the bold, wild energy of hope for the future." What Lecht found was the art colony of her dreams: Vietnamese artists painting in many styles on silk, canvas, and wood, all imbued with concerns for custom, history, and spirituality. She created an art salon in her traditional ironwood house, and now curates exhibitions and helps local artists with residencies overseas. Lecht also leads clients to artists' studios and takes them back to her amazing gallery-home for lunch, tea, or drinks. Lecht's goal is to deepen the West's appreciation of artists who are now as much family as friends. Count on spending anywhere from about $400 to $12,000 for drawings and paintings. Lecht is available for half- and full-day consultations. Ngo 529 Kim Nguu No. 2 to 361, Phuong Vinh Tuy, Hanoi; 84-4-8623-184; fax 84-4-8623-185; www.vietnamesefineart.com.
Hanoi's Trang Tien Street