Saturday, July 16, 2011

Burmese Lacquerware Workshop

While researching Myanmar for our recent trip, I read that Bagan was famous for it's lacquerware, and at the time I wasn't too excited about it, mostly because I don't collect knick knacks and I don't have many decorative items in my home that are not handmade by me or someone I know.

That all changed when I spotted my first piece of lacquerware being sold outside the first temple we visited in Old Bagan. The bright colors and the smooth black background of the lacquerware just begged to be touched. But even after I discovered how gorgeous lacquerware was, I was still reluctant to buy anything. 

Myinkaba is a small village outside of Old Bagan, and it is here that I finally purchased my first piece of lacquerware. Like many of the other temples in Bagan, there were stalls set up out side the main temple in Myinkaba with craftsmen selling their wares. One gentleman had exquisite lacquerware pieces and we asked if he had a workshop nearby and if we could see how lacquerware was made. He answered "yes" to both questions and led us along a twisted, hilly path through Myinkaba to his family's workshop.

On our way to the lacquerware workshop

Once we arrived at his workshop, the artisan and his sister proceeded to explain the many steps that go into making quality lacquerware. Each piece starts with a bamboo base and is coated with clay to create a waterproof surface. Then the lacquer is applied in thin layers, allowed to completely dry and then another layer is applied. High quality pieces have 8-14 layers of lacquer.

Lacquer waiting to be applied to the bamboo base
Artisan using his fingers to apply the lacquer
Megan listening intently as the laquerware process is explained

After all of the layers are applied, the intricate designs are then carved into the surface and filled in with color. This workshop also uses copper wire and palm tree wood to create beautiful designs on their lacquerware.

Burmese woman carving a beautiful design
Carving tools and a work in progress

After showing us the whole process, the family brought us into their living room/workshop and proceeded to show us a huge variety of different lacquerware pieces from bracelets to huge storage containers, each one more beautiful than the next. The entire family was sitting in the room, and we were offered fruit, candy, and water. After some tough negotiation, we each walked out with 2-3 pieces of beautiful artwork and the knowledge that we helped a family make a living. 

Two happy customers!

1 comment:

  1. Melanie,
    These are awesome pictures! I am sorry we didnt get a chance to see your pictures and hear all about your trip! I hope to hear about it all soon!
    love ya
    Mom Baumgart