Wednesday, January 1, 2014

On Lacquerware

The etching artist (Isaac Epp)


Bagan is the heart of Myanmar's lacquerware industry. You find it everywhere in the country, but it is generally all made in little workshops here. We were referred to one called Golden Cuckoo which is the location of a now five generation lacquerware family business. The shop is set up with an entry shop room which houses the low-to-mid quality wares which is what most tourists are used to seeing in street markets all around. Behind that room is an antique room and a high quality room.


We were not allowed to photo in the antique or high quality area, but it was staggering to see the contrast in quality once you saw it. One special note in the antique room were large teak panels etched, gold leafed, and colored full-body portraits of "The Lady" Dau An San Suu Kyi. Some of the highlights in the high quality room was a stunningly beautiful motorbike helmet [sadly not DOT cert.], a guitar, and some small chests of drawers. The most expensive item I saw was one such chest of drawers which cost $11k USD!


No glue (Isaac Epp)


Along the paths between the rooms of varying quality were small stations and small rooms where the crafting took place. The first station was where they took bamboo, and carved it down to thin strips which are then layered tightly around and around until it creates a solid and light structure, with no glue. The process then goes through a very time intensive process of layering, polishing, and layering more of natural lacquer harvested from lacquer trees near Inle Lake. That process of layering takes a minimum of seven months for high quality items... And that is before the etching has even started!


Skilled hands. (Isaac Epp)


The etching process is equally intense. First, men do some rough shape etching, this is then colored with natural coloring (low quality just uses chemical coloring), which is then set with natural glue and dried. Next the first pass of high detail carving begins, all done by very talented women, who by hand etch in the sub-millimeter animals and traditional patterns. Each time a new color is desired, it goes through at least one of these carving, coloring, and setting passes. The etching process adds minimum of 2 months for high quality lacquerware.

From that moment on, it was quite easy to spot the multitude of low quality stuff that pervades the vast majority of shops throughout.



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