RYUKYUAN LACQUERWARE

Post 704  –by Gautam Shah

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This article is compiled from several Internet resources and my own lecture notes on Surface Finishes.

1 Footed Tray with Figures in a Landscape and Symbols of Seven Immortals LACMA

2 Footed Tray

Ryukyuan lacquerware (Ryukyu no Shikki) is the chief craft product of the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa Prefecture of Japan). Shikki incidentally, stands for lacquerware. Ryukyuan lacquerware represents a unique form and style distinct from the neighbouring places. These have three distinguishing features: the brilliant red colour of the background, gold patterns and use of inlay of mother of pearl. Many items and techniques of making the lacquerware of Ryukyuan, elsewhere in Japan and China are common. ‘Ryukyuan lacquers, yet, are neither purely Chinese nor purely Japanese’. The craft of making or decorating with lacquer is common in many Asian countries.

3 Red lacquer tray with gold engraving Song Dynasty

The art of Lacquerware came to Japan with Buddhism in mid 6th C from China through Korea. When Okinawa was the Ryukyu Kingdom, the lacquer items also came through trade with China during 14th and 15th C. Ryukyuan artisans over the years while exploiting, both the local and imported materials, matured the lacquerware into an ethnic craft by using Ryukyuan motifs.

21 Bowl with cover from Okinawa, 18th C Mother of Pearl Inlay work Wikipedia Image by Hiart Honolulu u_Museum_of_Art

20 Mother of Pearl

4 Lacquer case

Ryukyu, lacquerware have over the years seen several political upheavals, forcing imposition of new styles, but yet the most popular red lacquerware has survived such vagaries. During the 17th and 18th C, following the invasion of Okinawa by Satsuma the Chinese style black lacquerware production was made mandatory. It resulted in mixing up of Ryukyuan and Chinese styles lacquerware in single pieces.

5 Red Lacquer Cabinet with Butterflies

In Ryukyu, lacquerware like cups and bowls were used for offerings in religion rituals, whereas items such as necklaces and decorative utilitarian articles were offered for political gratification. The descendants of Ryukyu samurai and royalty used the lacquerware in formal places in order to forge a connection between people and the Gods. The royal Sho family of the former Ryukyu Kingdom have a set of lacquerware luncheon-basket, leg bowl and wine cups, cherished as the national cultural asset.

6 Chest with Peonies motifs LACMA

Ryukyu lacquerware, over the ages, have seen several modifications. These were, in earlier periods due to the change in patronage by the rulers and also inclusion of new patterns, materials and techniques in the repertoire. In modern times these have been mainly markets driven changes. ‘Chinkin’, the gold inlayed items had traditional vermilion and additional green lacquer. ‘Raden’ the flaked seashells inlayed articles were produced in red lacquer. In later periods Raden pieces were produced with green turban or marine snail shell over black lacquer. From 18th C other techniques were used, such as Hakue (foil lacquering) and Tsuikin (red lacquerware with raised designs). After the annexation of the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1879, Ryukyu lacquerware began to be produced by private workshops and companies.

7 Cosmetic box Kamakura period 13th C plover design in Maki-e Lacquer Tokyo National Museum

4x5 original

Hakue consists of painting a design in lacquer with a makizutsu or a kebo brush and then applying gold leaf or gold-silver powder while the lacquer is half dry. Modern method uses gold, silver, copper, brass, lead, aluminum, platinum, and pewter, as well as their alloys. The Maki-e method was initially used to decorate arms like swords, but adopted over lacquered surfaces.

8 Sutra Box Buddhist with Gold Ming Dynasty

Chinkin (Qiangjin in Chinese) technique is submerging or sinking gold as leaf or powder into carved cinnabar red-lacquered surfaces. This required very fine knife engraving work onto a polished surface. Ryukyu craft-persons preferred a variation of relief building the designs with lacquer putty, called Tsuikin, over the original Chinese method of lacquer (tsuishu) carving. Tsuikin, post 18th C is more common method. Thin sheets of Lacquer mixed with pigments are rolled out. From these various motifs are cut and applied to the craft-item. Due to its easy process, the Tsuikin is very popular process. Hananuri uses the contrast between vermilion and black lacquer. Raden uses seashell flake for inlay work. Mitsudae is a method oil painting (with lead-based pigments) motifs like flowers, birds and skies with white, pink and other bright pastel colours or coloured lacquers (iro-urushie).

10 Modern Vietnam Banana leaf motif in Gold leaf on a red background 1953

In the Heian period (794-1185), when in Japanese history Buddhism, Taoism and other Chinese influences were at their peak, sacred vessels and other articles used by temples of various faiths were of Maki-e style lacquerware. Similarly aristocrats, samurai families, merchants and artisan classes were using Maki-e style items as status symbol and proud possessions.

11 Dish (Pan)With Dragon amid Clouds LACMA

The lacquerware have evolved with many decorating techniques.

Lacquer as a raw material (resinous exudate or secretion of insects flourishing on certain trees), is not local. The material was brought to Okinawa through trade. Exclusive officers were appointed to supervise the production of lacquerware in the Ryukyu Kingdom.

12 Chest with Cartouche Figures on Donkeys in a Landscape Magnolias Plum Blossoms Peonies Birds and Butterflies LACMA

Local woods of Okinawa, such as Deigo coral tree, Sendan or bead tree, Egokoki, Gajumaru, with uniform grains are used.

13 Seal Box with Lotus scrolls & Eight buddhist symbols Red lacquerincised with Gold Qiangjin style

■ Okinawa islands are part of the northern limit of Black sea current which offers the hardest turban shells. Use of wafer-shin shell, prepared by boiling the shell in water for about a week and then pulverizing it (mijingai-nuri) is a local technique. The mix of pulverized shell and lacquer, after applications are rubbed to make a smooth surface (roiro-togidashi).

19 Korean Box, Lacquer inlaid with mother-of-pearl and tortoise shell

15 Gold Lacquer work Tray Japan 19 C

Ryukyu, lacquerware motifs include papaya, plantain, palm trees, hibiscus chrysanthemums, peonies, and other representations of islands’ coastal zone flora. Similarly local and exotic birds and animals, such as long-tailed hens, wagtails (genus Motacilla), chicken, swallows, wagtails, sparrows, mandarin ducks, peacocks and peonies, and a fictional phoenix is found here. Designs that combine and depict flowers and birds are called kachō-zu. Many non local motifs were included to serve the export markets.

Digital Capture

17 Channapatna India Lacquer coated toys

Lacquer coating is common in many parts of the world. Thin lacquer coatings or as applied in multiple layers, nominally do not crack or peel off the surface. Lacquers with additives like wax or oil as plasticizing agents can be applied on many surfaces.

16 Sake Bowls with Lacquer motifs

Shellacs finishes, were the first true clear coatings. Sankheda (Gujarat India) furniture and Chinese lacquer items are examples of shellac coatings. Shellac is a very effective coating material even in very thin viscosity, as a result its penetration and filling capacity is excellent. It is eminently recoatable so a very level and glossy surface is possible. Modern synthetic version NC (nitro-cellulose) lacquer provides a very clear and superior film compared to a shellac and maleic modified resins. Lacquers are modified with alkyds, other synthetic resins and plasticizer so as to control adhesion, softness, toughness and malleability. At fixed levels of viscosities it is possible to formulate lacquers with variable solid contents by varying the degree of molecular linkages. This property renders lacquer as the most versatile coating material for wood, metal, metal foil, leather, fabrics, fibers, plastics, stones, metals, glass, masonry, paper, ceramics, grasses (cane, bamboo), human hair and skin.

Lacquerware from across the world

Links to My other articles

446 COROMANDEL LACQUER

https://designsynopsis.wordpress.com/2019/05/01/446-coromandel-lacquer/

UNDERSTANDING LACQUERS

https://interiordesignassist.wordpress.com/2015/08/16/understanding-lacquers/

LACQUERS or NC LACQUERS

https://interiordesignassist.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/lacquers-or-nc-lacquers/

SHELLAC COATINGS and FRENCH POLISHES

https://interiordesignassist.wordpress.com/2014/04/26/shellac-coatings-and-french-polishes/

LIST of BLOGS on LACQUERS, PAINTS and THINNERS

https://interiordesignassist.wordpress.com/2015/08/17/list-of-blogs-on-lacquers-paints-and-thinners/

 

 

 

MEANING of CRAFT – 4

Post 625 –by Gautam Shah

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Electric Kettles by Peter Behrens --Industrial Craft

Craft derives from cræft or -creft meaning something to do or execute with physical strength, might, and prowess (a talent of mental and physical power). Other usage versions (include krab, kraf, kreft, chraft, Kraft, kraptr) relate to something built, made or devised using skill, virtue, dexterity and art. Before the Industrial revolution, the personal strength and prowess (mental talent) were key requirements for creative effort. The crafts were called handicrafts.

640px-apprenticeship

Apprentice of Shoe maker 1914 > Wikipedia image

The physical strength required to make things were reduced with the leverage provided by better tools, use of animal power, and rational use of materials. In the First case, tools had calibrated arm lengths, functional shape for handles, harder (or softer) surfaces for desired impact, specific versions tailored for tasks, and rational composition of materials. Over a time, crafts were articulated not by sheer strength, but by mental prowess. Handicrafts became artefacts. The hand and the mind remained the basis for craft for long time. In the Second instance labourious jobs like lifting, pushing and transporting, were done with animal power and pulleys. The animal power offered rudimentary sense of automation to many production processes. In the Third instance, the capacity to search around for quality raw materials and expertise to refine and upgrade the raw materials, crafts offered the objects that were thin, light weight, enduring and better crafting capacity.

spinning_jenny

Spinning machine which initiated Industrial Revolution at Museum of early Industrialization in Wuppertal (Germany) > Wikipedia image by Markus Schweib

The crafts have been known by the terrain, culture, and artisan. The craft products substantially rely on local materials, and so have regional or local flavour of materials. The terrain also reflects the nature, flora, fauna and climate of the place. The culture with its varying levels of sociopolitical affectations creates local values. These get reflected in the form, fables, symbols and metaphors used in crafts. The culture is also seen in the ethnicity, and what transpires as heritage. An artisan can produce things that are mundane, but if gets opportunity and exposure, in spite of all other factors remaining consistent, new forms arrive. The successful crafts’ products are emulated by other locals, and in this sense craft become regional.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Brother knitting machine – example of Industrial craft > Wikipedia image by Gudde Fog, Denmark

Crafts’ processes have seen substantial redefinition during the period of industrial revolution. The redefinition occurred on two counts, easier movement of goods and people, and industrialized production facilities. Both were based on steam as the efficient source of power. Easier movement of goods allowed massive imports of traditional and exotic raw materials that were cheaper and better. The industrialized production processes were batch and continuous type, faster, non-personal and sharper in precision. The mass-produced items offered cheaper alternative to highly individualized and region specific items. The items were produced with greater use of ‘machine skills’ than ‘human skills’. The craft-person began to migrate to industrial production centres as designers, craft facilitators and as skilled workers. The crafted products of the Industrial era were not handicrafts.

Morris_and_Company_Weaving_at_Merton_Abbey

The dilution of craft, as a product of tradition, heritage, individualized skills and regional ethnicity occurred due to the massive production of industrial goods. People appreciated the stark simplicity with neat functionality, variety, reliability and consistency of quality of industrial products. Unlike these, the crafted products were connoisseurs items. The rarity of a crafted products, however, encouraged, better appreciation of other things of beauty. A debate on physical versus nonphysical heritage revived. The non physical heritages were traditions of story telling, fables, learning and teaching, dance, drama and other form of performing arts, rituals, fairs and festivals, knowledge base and practices concerning nature and living. These cultural heritages were fragile and intangible, and so were, now keenly sought, reenacted and documented. The intangible heritage brought back the mass of inherited knowledge and skills that existed in every culture. The debates created inter-cultural dialogue, and respect for diverse ways of life. Most importantly the cultural heritages were now anchored to places, buildings and artefacts and these reinforced the interest in crafts, craft centres and the artisans.

NewcombStudio_HistoricPic

It was realized that when people migrate to other lands they carry the intangible legacy with them, and find a comfort through the metaphoric link to the place of origin, distanced culture and past. The intangible legacy offered an assurance that these ‘things’ worked in certain environments. To the immigrants it gives strength, a sense of identity and purpose.

Local Store

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MEANING of CRAFT – 2

Post 529  by Gautam Shah

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profession of thatching is learned through apprenticeship in Germany Wikipedia image by Author Joachim Müllerchen

Craft has been considered an activity involving skills of making things by hand. The use of hand and the output product have been collectively called the handiwork. Where the products reflect the creative crafting, it is called a handicraft. The process of doing things by hand has two essential facets, One: converting the raw material, and Two: processing (crafting) it into a product. Such distinctive identifications, perhaps in terms of persons handling it, have existed from very ancient times, One person’s product was another inspiration to intervene and innovate. The material producer and the object manufacturer, both used their hand-skills and experience for making things. With experience not only the materials but resultant products continued to evolve. The handicraft has been synonymous with an effort where the material and forming processes offer a seamless sense of creativity. This perception, over the years has grown stronger. And the Craft has been considered an activity involving skills of making things by hand. Purists have felt that craft cannot be but by hand.

Indus Priest/King Statue 175mm carved from steatite or soapstone from Mohenjo-daro Now in National Museum, Karachi, Pakistan Wikipedia image / Source world66.com by Author Mamoon Mengal

Since ancient times the craftsperson did not have time and resources to scout materials and further process it. Metal ores and other minerals need to be searched, collected, refined and sintered or smelted. Similarly stones require mining, dressing and transportation before could be used for construction. Fibres like cotton, hemp or linen, all need several different grades of processing, spinning before could be used for fabric-crafts. Material procuring and processing allowed production of raw materials that are used for different crafts. There were several layers of material processes, and each handled by different set of people in different regions. There was a time the material producer and the user or the craft’s people were directly linked, but soon the traders became the agents.

Leopold Reichling prehistoric collection Wikipedia image by Author PlayMistyForMe

The raw material processing is production, and was not qualified as craft work. Historically material processing was ‘hand-work’, but the output products though innovative as a range, was not necessarily creative at individual level. Craft has had many different interpretations over the ages and in instances across societies and cultures. A crafted item ends with the user or the connoisseur. This link remained very strong for several centuries, but somewhere the craftsmen began to rely on traders to market the craft-products. There were yet many ‘living-crafts’ that were useful as part of living, but not a deliverable product. These were life-style things that were important as the process of creation, such as the craft of building dwellings, public structures, farming cooking, building, painting, etc. Here the hand-skills of the creator, improvisations and deliverance were important.

Roman theatre of Scythopolis, Beit She’an, Israel. 2nd C BC Wikipedia image Author Tango7174

Crafts gained a sharper meaning with emergence of Guilds in medieval period. The guilds were formed to protect the tradition where the craftsmen designed, executed and traded the work. Guilds were able to do this by suppressing internal competition, but more by focussing on their regional exclusivity. The regional exclusivity of a guild gave rise to folk-craft of the place. A folk-craft had TWO strong characteristics, exclusive access to processed raw materials, and restricted training of skills within the family or clan through ‘close-door’ apprenticeship. Raw materials were supplied by traders across regions, but the secondary processing was local, in terms of the tools, techniques and materials used. This was ardently supported by local crafts-people, through their clan or guild.

Saint Eligius in his Gold-smithy workshop Wikipedia image by Master of Balaam (fl. circa 1440–1550)

During medieval period the consumers or the connoisseurs also knew the value of exclusivity of the crafted product. The monetary value and pride for the local but exclusive items were immense. Crafts became branded with regions, cities or towns of origin, as much as with the identity of the craftsperson and craft centre. The connoisseurs also established their production units. The production was designed for single commission for a specific user, or sometimes in batches with minor variations. The creations were ‘craft-products’ because it involved use of individual skills, had scope of improvisation and it did not use many “automated” processes.

Craftsman selling Cases by a teak wood building Ahmedabad Wikipedia image Painting by Edwin Lord Weeks (1849-1903)

In modern times we have access to many automated tools and equipments to do things far more efficiently and creatively. These facilities are used in two distinct ways. In pre industrial age the use was in batch processing. Each batch and tasks within it, were amenable to innovations. During industrial age and thereafter, continuous or on-line production set-ups emerged. These arrangements required jigs, dies and other fixed facilities with specific tooling. The continuous productions allow very minor changes or improvisations in production style. These were than not considered craft items. Such dialogues were occurring mainly due to the Arts and Crafts movement of the times. It was perceived that an industrial product or use of machines to format it, dilutes the essence of craft.

Chocolatier preparing Easter eggs and rabbits Wikipedia image by Author Oriel

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MEANING of CRAFT – 1

Post 516  -by Gautam Shah

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640px-Old_bull_cart

Craft is an activity involving skill of making things by hand. The skill of making things by hand evolves with experience. So in this sense not only the skill but resultant products continue to evolve. Craft-work could be a hobby to keep oneself engaged or a pursuit for personal satiation, and a profession for earning a livelihood. Craft activity is a personal engagement, in spite of family, clan or employees partnering it. All human activities have some element of craft-work, as some degrees of innovations are involved in routine work. The innovations relate primarily to productivity, or doing things in easier (lesser effort) manner, and in quicker way. Other efforts include efficient use of materials, working with better tools, devising superior forms, endowing new functions, safety, well being and security.

A handcraft shop Udupi India Wikipedia image by Author Vaikoovery

Elephants at Thrissur Pooram Festival Kerala, India Wikipedia image by Rajesh Kakkanatt

Craft-work allows growth of personal skills, development of physical fitness, body limb coordination, refinement of cognitive abilities, expression of thoughts and feelings, interpersonal relationships, and socio-cultural recognition. Craft is considered a stress buster activity. Craft-items, cumulatively represent both ethnicity and external influences. The craft products form a legacy of solutions that are local and time-tested, and so familiar and reliable.

: Wooden crafts for sale at the municipal market of Patzcuaro, Michoacan Wikipedia image by Author Thelmadatter

Indian stringed puppets Wikipedia image by Author Nicolás Pérez

Craft is an expression of human activity that relies on design, improvisation, enterprise, abstraction of the form, reality of functionality and compression of diverse meanings. Craft has a recognizable shape, size and existence. It persists without the creator, but has with it the flavour of the place and time of its origin. Crafts denote materials, processes and recognizing the ‘good’ (or aesthetics) things. The ‘good’ things are sought to be recreated and improved upon through new materials and processes. Routine production processes output products of consistent form and quality, like bricks, ceramic pots, etc., and are not craft’s endeavours. This means craft items are substantially varied versions of the earlier products.

Old men making handicrafts in Naqsh-e Jahan Square

Agra India artisan producing marble stone inlays wikipedia image by Author David Castor (dcastor)

Craft-items are real products where there is an intensive exploration of materials, processes and the meaning. It is not just intellectual and physical activity of making a tangible object, but also the discovery of meaning. Craft making is devoid of any absolute result or exact definitions, but rather an approximation and realization of essence. A complete piece of craft becomes an art. It is contingent, so one moves on to something else, without certainty or expectancy. It is an experience that inculcates a desire, to do something different.

Mata Ortiz pottery from Chihuahua FONART exhibition 2010 in Mexico City Wikipedia image by Author AlejandroLinaresGarcia

There are indistinct differences between the work of art and pieces of craft. The works of Art are exclusively centred on the meaning, often subjugating the materials and the processes of manipulation. The craft item is an embodiment of manipulated materials. The applied arts though manifest the materials, but do not reflect the processes of materials’ conversions. Since industrial age massive manufacturing capacities have distinguished handicrafts. Craft-items can be produced by using automated tools and other machine-based processes. This has created some categorizations of folk-crafts, country-crafts and tribal crafts.

Basket weaving Cameroon Wikipedia image by Author ymea Permission (Reusing this file) CC-BY-SA. Autorization by OTRS (ticket n° 2006062110007771).

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