The Art of Lacquer

The Art of Lacquer introduces lacquerware objects from the museum’s collections to showcase one of the most enduring and distinctive forms of craftsmanship in the world.

Made from hardened tree sap, the process and techniques used to create lacquer objects are lengthy and at times precarious. Raw, liquid lacquer is extracted from lacquer trees (Toxicodendron vernicifluum, formerly Rhus verniciflua) found throughout East and Southeast Asia. The sap is collected by cutting the bark of the tree and scraping off the liquid as it oozes out. Afterwards, the liquid is subjected to a range of recipes and painstaking application techniques.

Lacquerware objects are light and water-resistant. They are also durable and can last for centuries; lacquer artifacts have been found in tombs from as long as 3000 years ago. This exhibition will showcase lacquerware from the Crow Museum of Asian Art that features historical figures, scholars, floral motifs, and a variety of auspicious symbols. Some pieces are coated with more than a hundred layers of lacquer and then carved to reveal a detailed relief. Others demonstrate meticulous applications of mother-of-pearl to produce scenes with the scope of landscape paintings. Still others are painstakingly decorated with gold and silver powders.

The art of lacquer is nearly as old as civilization itself. We invite you to get to know the rich history of this artistic tradition through a selection of compelling and distinctive pieces from the museum’s collection.