This week’s Travel Photo of the Week is an artisan working on traditional Vietnamese lacquerware. This art form, popular in India and Asia is based off of a waterproofing technique used for wooden bowls and vessels since before 5000BC. The word lacquer comes from the Sanskrit laksha meaning one hundred thousand. One form of lacquer is made from the lac insect. The lac bug is utilized for both the red dye and the “grease” that cures as a lacquer coating. Once hardened, lacquer forms a lustrous durable surface that is impervious to moisture, insects, and oxidization making it ideal for preserving soft materials, such as wood or bamboo.
Vietnamese lacquerware is made from the resin of the lacquer tree which is more appetizing for use in food bowls than “bug grease lacquer.” The intricate designs are crafted from mother of pearl cut from certain mollusk shells and is similar to actual pearls. Duck-egg shells from hatched ducklings which are stronger, whiter and take dye better are also used, as is painting. After the mother of pearl or egg shells are attached or the painting is done to the base wood, they are coated with a clear drying lacquer resin. It takes many coats of lacquer to build up to the same level as the egg shells or mother of pearl. Between each coat the piece of art is wet-sanded, making the process very labor intensive, usually taking twenty coats at a minimum and over one hundred days to complete. After the required coats and sanding the final polishing is done with the palm of the artists hand and a mixture of charcoal and iron oxide to achieve the traditional luster that can mimic a mirror. This lacquer is also utilized to protect and waterproof the puppets in Vietnamese water puppet theater.
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