Lacquerware


Lacquerware
   One of Burma's most distinctive arts. Lacquerware items are usually fashioned of coiled bamboo strips, upon which as many as seven successive coats of sap or resin (thit si in Burmese) from a large tree (species Gluta usitata) are applied. These trees grow in the wild and are not damaged by the process of extracting sap (the resin is quite different from Western lacquers derived from insects, resembling those used in China and Japan). The items are frequently engraved in delicate and complicated patterns, using several colors (usually red, yellow, and/or green, on a black or red background). After each layer of resin is applied, the wares are placed for an extended time in a cool cellar for drying. The highestquality pieces are so supple that they can be bent without causing damage to either the lacquer coating or the bamboo frame, and can take as long as six months to make. Black, high-gloss items, upon which gold leaf has been applied to form patterns or pictures, are known as shwe zawa. Important centers of lacquerware production are the Pagan (Bagan) area in Mandalay Division and Shan State, especially Keng Tung.
   Despite the growing popularity of Western-style utensils, lacquerware is an indispensable part of Burmese daily life, in the form of cups, trays and plates, tiffin boxes, sets of containers holding the ingredients for betel chewing, decorative plaques, Buddha images, and hsun ok, elaborate, covered offering bowls used to carry donations for members of the Sangha. The history of Burmese lacquerware is unclear, but the art is possibly derived from China, and the more-sophisticated techniques, used for making the multicolored, engraved items (known as yun in Burmese), may have been brought in recent centuries from northern Thailand. During the Burma Socialist Programme Party era (1962-1988), the quality of wares declined because of the lack of resources, but in recent years there has been an effort to improve it, making better-quality items for the tourist and international markets.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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