Woman etching designs into a vase at lacquer ware workshop, near Bagan, Myanmar
Next time you see fine lacquer ware, you can appreciate the labour that went into producing it, as described below!
Lacquer ware manufacturing originally came to Myanmar from China and it takes 5 to 7 months to make even the smallest item and up to a year to make larger items. Different materials are used to create the basic object to be covered with lacquer, including thin bamboo strips and horsehair that are coiled or woven into the shape that is finally coated with lacquer. Lacquer comes from the resin of a tree, Gluta usitata, that grows around the Bagan area of Myanmar, and it is harvested from the tree by tapping, in the same manner as rubber. When tapped, the sap is straw-coloured but quickly turns a glossy black.
After the frame is made and bamboo wicker or horsehair has been woven around it, the first coating of lacquer is applied. The lacquer paint is applied by hand and the object is then left to dry for a week in an underground cellar. The object is then given a second coating of lacquer and left to dry for another week in the cellar.
Then it is covered with a paste made from a mixture of pulverized buffalo bone, teak sawdust and lacquer and left to dry for another week. The object is then polished with pumice stone to remove rough surfaces and lacquer is applied again and it dries for another week. The object is polished again, both on the inside and outside, using a mixture of clay and stone. The polishing is done three times before the object is stored underground for one month. Then a long process of painting and drying begins.
For the next seven weeks, a layer of lacquer is applied at one week intervals. The result is a shining black surface made even glossier by polishing with a buffalo chamois soaked in sesame oil. At this stage, traditional designs are etched onto the surface, as you see in this photo. Then a layer of colour is applied and the lacquer ware is left to dry for a week, then polished with rice husks, washed with water and painted with acacia glue to fix the colour. If another colour is required, more details are etched and then the object is coated with the second colour, left to dry for a week, washed and then fixed with acacia glue again. More etchings are made and a third colour is added, if desired, and the object is left to dry for a month.
Then it is polished first with teakwood ash and water, and then with a piece of cotton cloth. It is washed and dried again for ten minutes in the sun and finally polished with a powder made from pulverized petrified wood. Finally, the object is painted once more on the inside with red lacquer, left to dry for one week and is ready for sale.
For a photo of the process of applying gold leaf designs, and a description of this, see here: http://goo.gl/LZkcU