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Snapping up striking examples of beautiful Burmese laquerware.

Byline: DON RODGERS Bargain Hunter

I BOUGHT this vase from the big antiques fair in Builth Wells last autumn, and was pleased to come across other examples of similar wares at a recent flea market in Abergavenny.

All of these items are examples of Burmese lacquerware. The Burmese are reputed to have been making lacquerware for the past 3,000 years, although the oldest extant piece dates to the 13th century.

Producing this sort of lacquerware is by no means a simple process. All these pieces are made from thin strips of bamboo which are coiled and woven into the desired shapes. The bamboo is then sealed with a paste of sawdust mixed with lacquer.

Burmese lacquer comes from the sap of a tree growing wild in Burma, Melanorrhoea usitata, known locally as Thitsi. The lacquer is naturally black and other colours are achieved by adding different substances, for example cinnabar for red and orpiment for yellow.

Applying lacquer is a time-consuming business. It has to go on in several layers, each layer needing both time to dry then polishing.

The typical method of decorating Burmese lacquerware, called yun, is also a complicated affair. Designs are etched into the surface using a metal stylus and then filled in with different coloured pigments - sometimes as many as three or four different colours on the same piece, as can be seen on the vase.

The round box, shown open, is the only item to have been left plain, but it's an interesting object in its own right.

This is a betel box and would originally have contained one or more circular trays.

It held the ingredients necessary for assembling a quid of betel to be chewed - betel leaves, areca nuts, lime and spices - a practice not confined to Burma but found across south-east Asia.

The oldest item is the vase, which probably dates from the late 19th or early 20th century. The colour of the lacquer and the style of decoration suggest it may have come from the Shan states of eastern Burma.

The other items may have been produced in the main centre for Burmese lacquerware, Bagan, a place-name formerly spelt with a "p" and from which we derive the English word "pagan".

The vase, which is quite large and impressive, cost PS8, while the betel box and the bowls - I have six of them in total - cost PS5. Together they're worth about PS80-PS120.


| Above, Lacquerware vase, left, Lacquerware bowls and below, Lacquerware box
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 11, 2013
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