Lacquer art is almost a forgotten art form that originated from China. The oldest lacquerware discovered dates back to the Warring States period (403-221 B.C.).  The art has been transferred to Japan, Korea and other Southeast Asia countries.  These gorgeous handmade pieces and the very techniques of making an item using natural lacquer is worth preserving. 

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1/  Lacquer

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Natural lacquer should come from the sap of the lacquer tree. The Chinese character for lacquer, pronounced “ch'i”「漆」, is pictographic.  One of its components, pronounced “mu”「木」(meaning wood), forms the top part of the word. In the middle two side strokes protrude downwards like taps that have been sunk into a tree.

The lower part of the word is formed by a component, pronounced “shui” 「水」(meaning water), which signifies the flow of sap from the wood.

2/  Layers

Lacquer is applied in numerous thin layers on the surface, each being allowed to dry before the addition of the next.

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3/  Core Materials

Core materials can be made of wood, leather, bamboo, paper, textiles or even horsehair.  Exposed to air, the lacquer forms a plastic coat on the core materials, resistant to water.

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4/  Decoration

There are different decoration techniques including carving, engraving, etching, inlaid and gold gilded.  All are done by hand with the aid of primitive tools.

5/  Colours

Natural pigments such as cinnabar, orpiment (yellow) and Indigo can turn black lacquer into different colours.

6/  Design

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The price depends upon the intricacy of design in relation to the amount of time taken to create and decorate an object.

7/  Process

Lacquer requires a dust-free, warm, moist atmosphere in which to dry and harden. Objects are placed on shelves to dry in between the various preparatory surface and decorative processes. This drying process may take from 3 to 10 days depending upon the weather. It may take up to 4-8 months to complete a particularly fine piece of lacquer.

Video courtesy of Veronica Gritsenko.  Veronica Gritsenko with her talented team of local craftspeople in Myanmar create contemporary designs while using the traditional methods. The imaginative, colorful and detailed illustrations are absolutely magical. She insists using ancient techniques and methods to produce the correct weight and consistency of the lacquer pieces, the result of which is a piece of art that lasts a lifetime.



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