Lacquerware—Commentary and Impressions Seven

The lid of this box looks like a forest floor littered with pine needles.
 Lacquerware All-sorts Seven—Sparkling, Alluring, Strong—Wakasa Lacquerware
So many pieces of Wakasa lacquerware are breathtaking.

While not being in the slightest bit gaudy, the surface decorations are complex, tasteful and alluring as well as intriguing and timeless.

While many of the items used in a tea ceremony do not demand attention, the natsume—tea caddy for the bright green powdered tea—strikes an air of magical splendour.  Just imagine how much it would glitter in the subdued light of a tearoom.
Just as in the way that a camera can capture in closeup the glittering drops of dew clinging to blades of grass on a misty morning, the overall effect of this ware is often one of natural beauty.

Sadly I do not own any Wakasa lacquerware—very expensive.  Photographing pieces is the closest I have come to the ware.

Although the finished effect is stunning, the techniques are relatively simple while still requiring great skill and more that a little patience.

Such materials as small chips of eggshell, mother-of-pearl, pine needles, rapeseeds and small leaf sprigs of Japanese cypress are used to produce multilayered decorative effects, which rely heavily on the properties of natural lacquer.

Is this lid a reflection of a starlit sky or a beach exposed by a receding wave?
Archeological evidence tells us that in ancient times lacquer was used as an adhesive and later became a coating.  It also has distinctive physical properties—a viscosity unlike that of paint and hardens under controlled levels of humidity and temperature.  It can also be polished and buffed to produce a glass-like quality and brilliance.

Explanation of the decorative techniques used are far more complicated than space allows or warrants here.  So, simply speaking, the adhesive properties of lacquer are utilised to stick pieces of eggshell or mother-of-pearl to a prepared surface before more lacquer, polishing and even more lacquer is applied.

Placing “foreign bodies” such as pine needles or rapeseed on wet lacquer inhibits the hardening of the lacquer under them.  While the blank areas of a design harden, the lacquer under such foreign bodies remains tacky.  The lacquer around the negative spaces appears to cling to the areas from which pine needles or rapeseeds have been removed.  Ultimately this produces an effect of shallow relief that is sometimes expressed by the use of gold powder colour.

Given that some pieces may take a year to produce, the high price of Wakasa lacquerware is inevitable.  Having an enduring beauty and toughness, however, makes it something to be treasured as it was, is now and hopefully will be in the future.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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