Lacquerware was the most fascinating handcraft I saw in Myanmar. Men and women have been creating these beautiful, decorative vessels, plates and even furniture of bamboo or wood since 1600 B.C. in China.
The Burmese straw-colored lacquer derives from a wild growing Burmese tree and turns black when exposed to air. Lacquer vessels, boxes and trays have a coiled or woven bamboo strip base often mixed with horsehair (see the coiled vase in the slide show; here no glue was used). The lacquer is mixed with ash to form a rubber-like substance which can be formed. The object is coated layer upon layer with lacquer and lacquer-ash mixtures to make a smooth surface and an – after a long drying period – object which is hard as stone.
Every layer of lacquer has to dry in a cellar for about a week. Depending on the quality of the item, it takes incredibly 20 to 100 layers of lacquer before it is polished and engraved free-handed with intricate designs, commonly using red, green and yellow – the Burmese colors – on a red or black background.
The finished product is a result of teamwork for months or years and not crafted by a single person. Holding these items in my hands, I admired the preciseness and talent of the people who created these wonderful pieces of art. Lacquerware is produced in many countries nowadays, even in Germany, France and Russia.
Bagan is the capital of lacquerware in Myanmar. In the beginning I did not know about the “real” lacquerware, but bought “fake” things instead. To distinguish between fake and real you need to check the colorings and the weight. A fake product is way lighter and the colors are painted and not rubbed into the carved areas. The items are also very beautiful, but will not last for very long. The colors will come off soon and the wood might break after some time.
LACQUERWARE PRODUCTION IN MYANMAR.