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FrontRunners: Asian Lacquer

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Although poisonous, the sap from an Asian sumac nevertheless can be irresistible—when it has been heated, transformed into lacquer, and used to make intricate decorative items such as the incense box shown here (top left). Japanese artisans since the eighth century have worked with this lacquer, and the art form still flourishes, notably in the hands of Yamazaki Mushu, whose works are offered by Erik Thomsen Asian Art (www.erikthomsen.com) in New York. Mushu’s incense box depicts swimming trout in high-relief waves of gold and silver splashed with mother-of-pearl droplets. The artist’s shimmering golden okimono (top right above)—a display object for a tokonoma, an alcove in a Japanese home—represents Daikoku’s hammer, the mallet wielded by the god of wealth in Japanese mythology. Wealthy mortals can wield a pen made of lacquer that has been carved and finished with precious-metal leaf and powder. This form of lacquerwork, known as Chinkin, emerged during China’s Sung dynasty (960–1279) and arrived in Japan around the 14th century. The Japanese pen manufacturer Namiki (www.namiki.com) has utilized the technique to produce its Chinkin collection of five fountain pens. The pens, priced from $4,500 to $10,000, are available with either fine or medium nibs in 18-karat gold.

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