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Lacquer in its natural form actually comes from the sap produced by the Rhus verniciflua tree found in Japan.  Interestingly, lacquer has been used for more than 1,500 years as a material to coat objects.  Although lacquer was originally used for preservation, it later became a substance used to decorate and enhance furniture and accessories. 

For maki-e, which is gold lacquer, the designs are produced by a variety of small gold flecks that are applied.  The gold is sprinkled from a tube that has a tiny screen cover on the top so the design is created only in the top portions of the lacquer.  Once this is done, a layer of translucent lacquer is brushed over the gold speck layer, which is then polished after it hardens to show the magnificent decoration. 

Keep in mind when using lacquer that in between each layer, it must cure in a humidor for the hardening to be achieved.  Once the lacquer is hardened, the surface is then polished.  This process is repeated for each layer used until the final goal is met.  The one challenge with lacquer is that this material has a natural toxic component that is very similar to poison sumac. 

Depending on how the lacquer is used, it can resemble a painting, incorporating pictorial imagery.  However, lacquer is different from painting since the images are made from precious metals.  As mentioned, lacquer is commonly made using gold specks, silver, or other types of metal particles.  The lacquer works with these particles to adhere to them and once hardened, the two materials create an amazing, lustrous adamantine image. 

In addition to the metal, another method was used, consisting of the use of Paper Mache.  For this, a box made of Paper Mache was primed with a specific type of glue along with stone powder.  The next step involved putting a layer of burn clay on the wood or frame with wet lacquer and water.  Once dried, the surface was scrubbed using a pumice stone.  Finally, the surface was polished using delicate powder of whet.  From there, the color tone was determined by the ingredient added, which could be cinnabar, gum-gut, or Indian ink. 

The nice thing about lacquer is that not only is it beautiful but extremely strong.  Because the lacquer pieces designed in Japan are so intricate, they would fit nicely into any décor and because of the material used, they are durable, providing you with years of enjoyment.


 

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