The art of lacquering wood begins with the wood carving. Local acacia and teak are carved into the desired implement and then finished on hand lathes. The lathes are turned with a stick and string. The tools for smoothing the wooden implement are often held with the feet. Once the desired shape is achieved, the color is added.
The lacquer is made from a resin secreted by a local insect. The resin is collected and melted together with natural coloring agents made from minerals and plants. The resin is formed into sticks which are held against the desired wood piece as it’s turned on the lathe. The friction from the turning lathe creates enough heat to melt the lacquer onto the piece. However, the lacquer is color fast immediately! Even pulled directly off the lathe, and still warm, the color does not come off.
The distinctive kaleidoscope colors are achieved by rubbing the item with the desired colors, then turning them on the lathe with a clear coat of lacquer. By controlling the rate at which the tool spins, and in which direction, the artist can create a variety of color effects. Once the desired patterns are created, the item is rubbed with oil. The finished items are food safe, but need to be hand-washed.
Traditionally, a bride would be gifted a selection of items from wooden kitchen tools to cradles and other small furniture as part of her dowry. Today, the handicraft is also a source of income for entire communities in the Kutch region of Gujarat, India.
During our adventure we were able to meet Barik, the artisan featured in these photos. However, there are many artisans in this village. The pieces are each initialed by the person who made it, and he was careful to make sure to mark who created which piece so they could be paid fairly for their work. We have a small, exclusive collection in the shop of the lacquerware including chapati rolling pins, spatulas, and wooden spoons. As each piece is one of a kind, be sure to pick out your favorite before it’s gone! Photos by Dana of Urban Utopia Photography.