09 April 2008

Back to the Lacquer Store

Over a year ago I visited a student’s lacquer ware shop. I remember expecting it to be like the little places one finds all over town and finding out that is was a massive operation with high-end products. I went there again today, and this time brought my camera.

What is really nice about her shop is that they first explain the whole process, then give you a tour of a mini-production line so that you can see the artisans at work. It takes up to eighteen separate steps from that first piece of wood to the final product. Depending on the detail of the decoration, pieces can take up to three months to complete. (or was it four months?)

The first worker we saw was giving the final polishing to a wall hanging. You can’t tell from the picture, but it is a combination of hand painting and inlay. The next guy was chipping/cutting mother-of-pearl into small pieces to be used for inlay designs. The next man was constructing a painting using eggshells.

They buy egg shells, I assume broken, and then break them into tiny pieces and assemble them in a mosaic process. Shell bits are burnt to get varying color graduations. Each miniature bit is carefully laid onto a prepared surface, using tweezers and other tools. The man I saw was egg-shelling a baby portrait.

There were two other people painting designs onto surfaces that would end up as boxes, or placemats, or wall-hangings.

The designs and variety of products available are truly impressive. Some are designs I have seen elsewhere, but most are original. I’d love to buy a ton of things, but they are heavy and would use up too much luggage weight allowance on the plane. Also, there are hugely expensive because of the high quality. If I buy any lacquer ware, it will be the cheap stuff that continues to smell like toxic lacquer fumes for at least two years, and most probably takes a year or two off your life.