Thailand Lacquerware

Lacquerware was originally used to provide a silky weather-proof finish that would preserve the life of an artifact. As lacquer provided a base for gilding and glass or pearl inlay, it was widely used for decoration in temples.

Its most common use was to illumine wood panels on doors and windows, and especially cabinets that were used to keep palm leaf manuscripts. The lacquer came from a tree (Melanorrhea usitata Anacardiaceae) found in Northern Thailand and Burma.

The main design was in black and gold, a style known as lai rot nam . The designs themselves were two dimensional (no perspective was used) and was a fine balance of gold and black. This was achieved with numerous flower designs round the main motifs.

The technique used to do this has been applied to modern production. A pattern in a yellow water soluble gum is painted on the piece and covered with a thin layer of lacquer. Gold foil is put onto to the sticky lacquer. When the piece is washed, the yellow paint and foil above it dissolve to reveal the black of the pattern underneath.

Lacquer was also used to seal baskets and Chiang Mai used to be the center of a style of Khoen ware that was red and black. This was used on household objects, but the style went out of fashion and is no longer widely produced. Modern designs using colored lacquer on lines etched into a black base are Burmese in style.