Lacquerware is an Asian creation. Originally popularised in India and China’s distant past, the manufacturing technique was developed and redefined over many centuries in those and other countries, reaching its apogee during the early empires of Korea and Japan.
Lacquerware is one of Asia’s most significant contributions to the world of fine art. In each Asian country, the craft has evolved into a distinct style of construction and design. Vietnam is renowned for its expertise and skill in creating excellent functional articles and artwork through this the ancient art.
Lacquerware developed in the north of the country at least two thousand years ago when local artisans discovered how to use the juices of Rhus Succedanea, better known as the Wax Tree, to create a natural lacquer originally used to protect delicate works of art.
Since then it has been adapted to fit many purposes from fine furniture and ornaments to votive objects and abstract paintings, usually on a wood or papier-mâché base.
The process is highly skilled and labour intensive. In high-quality work, the base material will eventually covered with thirteen layers of foundation, body and protections coats of natural lacquer, each one meticulously sanded and polished by hand, to create a durable, waterproof coating of great beauty.
Colouring and texturing agents include gold, silver, eggshell and many other substances. In Duyen Thai, a village in Ha Tay province near Hanoi, the community creates fine lacquered articles incorporating mother of pearl.
Lacquerware, light and strong, makes excellent presents and souvenirs, but make sure you buy them at reputable craft workshops, not just because the income goes directly to the people who make it, not intermediaries, but also because there are plenty of fake products in city shops.
The real thing is quite expensive – as authentic lacquerware usually takes two or three months of intensive labour by a highly skilled expert, the price shouldn’t come as a surprise!