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Japanese Lacquerware

Dec 9, 2015 —
Oct 23, 2016

Behind every gorgeous, glossy surface of Japanese lacquerware are talented artists who have mastered a painstaking creative process. 
Through a selection of exquisite objects, Japanese Lacquerware reveals the many techniques and applications developed by artisans over hundreds of years. With a focus on work created during the 17th through 20th centuries, the 19 objects include a kimono screen, incense containers, traveling chest and picnic set.

Text and film footage describe the challenges of lacquer production — from extracting sap to decorating with gold and silver powder. Find out about the toxic liquid used to make lacquer (extracted from a tree related to poison oak), as well as the regimented, climate-sensitive steps involved in its creation.

As you'll learn, completing even a plain lacquered surface with only simple decorations is a lengthy, tedious and often precarious process, since any mistake can ruin an entire piece. Producing meticulously embellished works like those on view in Japanese Lacquerware requires the highest level of craftsmanship.

Love lacquer? Be sure to check out our presentation of Chinese lacquerware, on view now, and our upcoming exhibition Mother-of-Pearl Lacquerware from Korea, opening in April.

Read even more in our 2008 publication The Conservation of Asian Lacquer: Case Studies at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. Download...