If in Asia, one must visit
a lacquerware factory. These pieces of art are highly prized for their
durability and beauty and take skilled craftsmen months to perfect. We decided
to hire cyclo drivers to take us to the factory and it's a leisurely way to
travel this city of over 8 million people.
Cyclo driver taking
Akaisha through city traffic in Saigon, Vietnam to Lacquerware Factory
Lacquerware dates back to
at least 1600 years BC in China during the Shang Dynasty. Resin is taken from a tree
with a fancy name, which is indigenous to China. More commonly, this tree is
known as the Lacquer Tree. That works for me.
There is also a Lac insect
which produces a scarlet resinous secretion which was used centuries ago as a wood sealer in
ancient India and in neighboring areas.
Lacquerware factory and showroom in
The outstanding pieces you will see below use
the resin from the Lacquerware Tree, not the secretion from the insect. If you
Saigon, this factory will give you an understanding of the lacquer process
which is very labor intensive.
The first step
Pieces of plywood are cut, coated with
lacquer and sealed. A design is drawn on this board onto which heat-flattened
pieces of shell are cut and delicately placed. At this point the mother of pearl is
raised from the background of the board and is easily felt with the fingertips.
Lacquer is brushed coat by coat with day long
drying times in between, to raise the background to the level of the shell. Each
time a layer of lacquer is brushed and dried on the piece of artwork, it must be
lightly sanded down to expose the shell work underneath. As you can imagine,
this is very labor intensive.
Eggshell gathered from hatched duck and geese
eggs are used for the fine work you see here. There is a hardness to the shell
once the bird has hatched. Some shells are burned for further hardening and for the diversity
of color the burning gives.
Laid into the background of tacky lacquer,
the shell sticks. It is cracked into tinier pieces by a tool like the one you
A closer look
When the eggshell is broken, the lacquered
background shows through giving a lacy appearance.
Notice the different shades of the duck
Full eggshell piece
This whole picture is made
from eggshell. Because duck shells are white, they are easier to dye. Mineral
pigments and chemical dyes are used to achieve a smooth finish.
Three different styles of lacquerware
This man is using sea shell inlay, eggshell
inlay and painting lacquerware. These three different styles are rolled into
one complex piece.
Here you see the inky black color of the lacquer
before it is applied and some paints used in the artwork.
A finished piece
The ladies are made of mother of pearl. Details are
etched into the shell and the lacquer, when applied, leaves a trace of it
behind, giving depth and definition. The background is jet black lacquer, highly
polished, with more detail painted on the surface and then sealed.
Vietnamese woman on a
The woman's body and
bicycle are all made out of different colors of eggshell, all very finely done.
The dark background is very highly polished and acts like a mirror.
Fine detail of painted
These pieces can take
months to make with the many coatings and dryings in between. The lacquer is
built up layer by layer and then polished to complete the piece.
Objects such as vases, bureaus, paintings,
plates, trays, bowls and room dividers are all made with the same care to detail
and this labor intensive procedure. These are art works to be treasured for
Bowls, plates and some pictures in the
Vietnamese lacquerware differs in that they
utilize bright colors and mix all three types (eggshell, sea shell and painting)
in their fine art pieces. Many other countries such as
Myanmar only have traditional style with
gold inlay on black, or perhaps gold inlay on red or brown.
These bowls and plates are stunning pieces of
art that you can use at home in your dining room.
A mix of styles make these boxes an elegant
treasure. Notice the silver leaf which is colored gold for the
background of several of the boxes.
A variety of objects in this display
Our English speaking guide holds up a more
traditional red lacquer and gold tray. You will see the gold and painted bureau
to the right and many styles of vases and pictures. There is something for everyone.
Containers shaped as eggs
The insides of these eggs are the solid black
lacquer and the outsides are stunningly painted with some eggshell work.
Silver leaf background and painted tree
picture has a silver leaf background and scarlet colored flowers. There are
modern topics and more traditional styles available.
A village scene
Texture and depth is created by using
Don't much like the traditional style? Try
these modern art pieces.
Eggshell; workers in the rice fields
Notice the ripples of the water created by
use of the colored eggshell for that effect. Very finely done.
Two ladies walking through the country
One woman wears the Vietnamese cone hat
called non la and the other woman wears the traditional Vietnamese au
dai or in some parts of Vietnam called au yai with her non la carried over her arm. This
picture is similar to one shown earlier, but various backgrounds give them a
An underwater world
With sea shell and painting, this striking underwater
world comes to life.
A similar rice field scene
This eggshell rice paddy scene probably took
6 months to make. Notice the detail and depth all done with eggshell. This
setting is in 4 panels. You can separate the panels into single pictures or
with 2 or more to make a fuller vista.
Another typical Vietnamese daily life
A portion of daily river life portrayed in
painted lacquerware. The boats with the little rooftops are houseboats. Whole
families can live on a boat this size and you will see them on the rivers of
Now that you have seen the process of
lacquerware, you might want to take a tour for yourself.
If you get to Saigon, Vietnam, take this free
tour at the following factory: