Lacquer Ware - Asian - what to look for

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A beautiful and functional decorative art form, Oriental Lacquer-ware is usually hand made. Each coat takes a day (at least) to dry and needs a humid atmosphere so that it evaporates slowly. For this reason, traditional lacquer products are often dried in an underground chamber. Items are therefore of high quality. Lacquer ware used to be know as "Japan". The only examples of specific industrial arts being called by the name of their country are probably "Japan" for lacquerware and "China" for chinaware.
 
Lacquer is usually applied to a hand-made wooden base; each piece, even if made to a pattern, is unique. In addition to the purely decorative carved or etched pieces, f unctional vases, drink coasters, place-mats, boxes, trays, bowls and chopsticks are traditional lacquer-ware items. More recent additions are scrapbooks and photograph albums, which are heirlooms in the making. Many items have been in use and survived for hundreds of years.
 
The lacquer of Southern Asia, China, Japan, and Korea, [but not Burma / Myanmar,] comes from the Rhus tree. It is not the same as the turpentine based resin paint sold in the Western world, which try to imitate Eastern lacquer. Lacquer is made from the resin of the son tree, which grows in highland areas. These trees start to produce lacquer sap after three years. The resin is stored in jars for between two and four months. After boiling, the resin turns white and becomes thick, like cream.
 
Because it is resistant to water and oil, it is used for household items throughout Asia. In its manufacture the wooden base is smoothed and joins are sealed with a mixture of rice paste and lacquer. A thin coat of black lacquer is applied as a base and allowed to set before being rubbed smooth.  Further coats, where the lacquer is mixed with burnt clay are applied and allowed to harden. This is the base for a very hard lacquer, needing a longer drying time. Each layer is polished with rice husks. Gold or silver leaf is sometimes used as decoration onto which traditional designs are pained or etched. These processes need long hardening periods and careful polishing.

The traditional method involves at least eleven coats of lacquer, with each layer to be left to dry for a week and well sanded before the next coat is applied. It can take up to three months of painstaking and patient work to complete a single piece and require around 40 different stages during the production process.

Traditional lacquer has a shiny deep lustrous finish. Modern pieces usually have a matt finish, but are no less beautiful or functional.  There is  a range of lacquer-ware pieces many suitable for wedding gifts, baby showers and the like.

Caring for Lacquer-ware
  • Wash your lacquer ware in warm soapy water and dry using a soft cloth.
  • Avoid use of harsh cleaning chemicals.
  • Do not soak in water.
  • Please do not wash lacquer ware in the dishwasher or use it in the microwave or oven.
  • Please also avoid using sharp implements when using serving dishes or bowls.
  • Keep lacquer ware out of direct sunlight for long periods
  • Although lacquer ware vases have been waterproofed, as these are entirely hand-crafted products it is advised that the vase is placed on a saucer or plate when first used to ensure there is no leakage.
  • Lacquer ware outer surfaces or decorative items may be polished with a small amount of car wax and a clean, soft, lint-free cloth.
  • Lacquer ware is suitable for serving hot and cold foods.
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