Lacquerware—Commentary and Impressions Six

These small platters are interesting for there design.  One corner having been made to look as if it has been turned over, like we might fold over the corner of a page in a book for reference.  Plain, simple light and highly engaging.  It is interesting how the lacquer pulls back from an edge.
Lacquerware All-sorts Six—See Through—Shunkei Lacquerware
This series of posts on lacquerware continues with a brief look at Shunkei lacquerware, the making of which is centred on the city of Hida Takayama in Gifu Prefecture.

I first visited Takayama in 1974 when my wife, Lou and I were making our way from Osaka and Kyoto back to Tokyo via a mountain route.

Although I had already seen examples of highly decorated lacquerware in books and in museums, this was my first encounter with items which were light, simple and highly appealing because of their colour and the transparency of their finish.

The effect of using an almost clear true lacquer is augmented by the addition of perilla oil.  This oil makes the lacquer more transparent, thus making the grain of the wood more visible, while not inhibiting the drying or hardening of the lacquer.

The sides of this soup bowl are extremely thin—about 1 mm at the lip and 8 mm toward the foot.  It weighs 53 g.   A reddish dye has been used under the final top coat of true lacquer.  The wood is chestnut.  Behind is the box and handmade paper bag it came in.
The oil is extracted from the seeds of the beefsteak plant, the leaves of which are used in Japanese cuisine.  I have not tried to use perilla oil yet.  It is supposed to be a drying oil.  In theory, therefore, other drying oils might work.  I did try olive oil.  Silly me!  It inhibited the curing process of the lacquer.  After waiting several days in the hope of it drying, I finally wiped off the oil.  The lacquer did then curer but with a dull sheen, so I learned something.

The timbers used for Shunkei ware are air- and kiln-dried before being allowed to find a realistic, ambient moisture content.  The whole process takes about 14 months.

Sawara (Chamaecyparis pisifera) or Boulevard false cypress is one of the timbers most commonly used along with Chestnut, Yellow cedar and some hardwoods.  The timber is sometimes split or even peeled apart.  The latter technique produces an interesting effect but the timber needs to be of a variety to allow this to happen.

The wood is primed with the juice from boiling soya beans and is sometimes coloured with red or yellow stains, which in the past were natural—cochineal and turmeric respectively being commonly used.

This tray too has been stained but the grain still shows through.  The wood is probably a cypress and the detail of the bent corners is not hidden but unashamedly exposed.
The cost of this ware is a good deal less than other highly decorated wares.  The grain of the wood is also visible and enhanced—for many people hiding the grain of the wooden carcass of a bowl or other pieces of lacquerware is totally unacceptable.  People say that it is a "shame" that the wood is not visible.

The simplicity of Hida Shunkei lacquerware somehow matches how light in weight it can often be.  This is also true of the Kiso lacquerware saké cup and tumbler made at Chigiriya (see post 12/01/2017 Lacquerware—Commentary and Impressions Five).  To me the simplicity, lightness as well as the transparency of the finish of Shunkei lacquerware are all attributes that make it particularly desirable.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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