Lacquerware—Commentary and Impressions Four

These unusually colourful lacquerware trays demonstrate a very competent use of mura-kumo-nuri, a smoky cloud decorative effect found in the Ninohe Archive in Iwate Prefecture.
Lacquerware All-sorts Four—Smoke, Clouds and Tigers
This series of posts on lacquerware continues with a brief investigation of tora-nuri, with the help of the staff at Tekiseisha in Ninohe, Iwate Prefecture, some 600 kilometres north of Tokyo.

Having first been interested in the tora-nuri style lacquerware in Ninohe, I was anxious to try and at least test the technique for two reasons.  Firstly because it was such an appealing effect and secondly because number of lacquerware professionals in other parts of Japan had never seen it and in most cases had never heard of it either.

The lidded donburi style bowls here are decorated in a very free manner.  It would be interesting to see how a Japanese chef might use such bowls as these, the overall colouring being so bold and startling.
With some funding from the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation in London, I set off for Ninohe in 2012.  I had been in touch with the Tekiseisha staff, who were very willing and interested in trying to reproduce the tora-nuri effect.

Some of the best pieces of this ware in the Ninohe Archive either resembled a mist or wispy clouds in shades of grey against an ocher coloured background.

This is perhaps a draw back—the smoky cloud effect seems to scratch easily.
The name tora-nuri had been coined simply because of its colouring—red, black and ocher.  In literature on historical lacquerware decorative techniques, however, it is actually called mura-kumo-nuri (叢雲塗り).  This name in fact is very apt as it loosely means “a group of clouds”.

A lunch box, a donburi style bowl and spouted bowl for saké given the same treatment but completed with far less competence.  It would clearly take a good deal of practice to perfect the use of this decorative technique.
Our experiments with mura-kumo-nuri in 2012 started with the use of a candle to produce the soot.  We were working with wet lacquer rather than a semi-dried application of true lacquer.  The distance between the flame and sample piece was critical.
In the past the smoke was produced by burning a pine root or by using a type of oil lamp called a kantera.

On a bowl the potential of the technique soon became apparent.

This shows that the lacquer was creeping and not at all dry enough to received the soot.
The text says that the lacquer must be semi-dry.  The intention is to allow the soot to actually sink into the still half-wet lacquer.  Then, when the lacquer is completely cured the soot is locked in and will not brush off, thus making the affect secure.

However we all soon realised that a flame alone was too difficult to control, so…..
Our experiments were with a light coloured lacquer which was still wet.  Nevertheless we were able to see how it would be possible to create an interesting decorative effect but only after a good deal of practice.

…..we all more or less said in unison “What we need is a chimney!”  This indeed made it much easier to control the stream of sooty smoke.  A pair of chopsticks made an effective clamp with which to hold a funnel over the candle flame.
We soon learned that the key was to control the stream of smoke.  We improvised by using an upturned funnel.

It would take a good deal of time and effort to  perfect the technique but we had at least shown that it was indeed possible to replicate this historical effect relatively easily.

The examples in the Archive really rely on holding a piece and moving it over the stream of smoke to create the iconic smoky cloud effect.  I immediately thought, however, that it would be interesting to use the technique to produce an overall pattern on an appropriately flat item by using a stencil-like baffle held above the surface of the still tacky lacquer.  In this way it might even be possible to render a scene with a hazy overall appearance.

In whichever case, the technique is of great interest and worth pursuing.

Along with many other traditional crafts, lacquerware is covered in Japan Crafts Source Book, originally published by Kodansha International.

The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, London

Access the Tekiseisha site for more images of products under “Commodity” on the Japanese site.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

Do feel free to pass on the address of this blog to anyone you think will be interested.  Or share it on a social media site.  Should you wish to leave a comment, please do so by clicking on the comment mark at the bottom left of this or any of the other posts.   If you have found this blog interesting, why not become a follower.  Thank you.

No comments:

Post a Comment