Techniques of Lacquerware Production

extract from "Visions from the Golden Land - Burma and the art of lacquer" by Ralph Isaacs and T Richard Blurton; published for The Trustees of The British Museum by the British Museum Press, 2000. Available from

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Many of the techniques of lacquer production have, in their broad outline, been listed and described in the literature. These earlier records include work by the pioneer Henry Burney who in the early 1830's, in the aftermath of the First Anglo-Burmese War, was stationed at Ava as the Resident of the East India Company at the Burmese Court. In fine empirical fashion he ordered a set of vessels, the production of which he then recorded as they were made.
1 At the beginning of the twentieth century A.P. Morris, writing in the Journal of the Burma Research Society, also brought together much useful information dealing with varying aspects of production, including lacquer sap, the development of the craft of making lacquer vessels, the production and designs of ‘Pagan ware’ (i.e. vessels decorated with engraved patterns), moulded work, the use of lacquer in architecture and the future prospects of lacquer in Burma.2 In more recent years Fraser-Lu has notably collated a great deal of dispersed information, adding new data along with photographs of the various processes.3 Finally, one of the present authors has made further contributions by using field records and examples of lacquer vessels in the British Museum.4

Given this situation, it seems unnecessary to repeat information that is readily available elsewhere, and more profitable instead to present a report which, for the most part, was gathered during a visit to Pagan in October 1995 when both a video film and a written record were made at the Htun Lacquer Workshop in New Pagan.
6 This illustrates the technique as practised today in the town that in the late twentieth century is the most important lacquer-producing centre in Burma; many of the processes are the same as those recorded 170 years ago, but other features have inevitably changed. Although some of the production there is of wooden trays, screens and tables, the chief output is of vessels, and it is that which was recorded. Further, the decoration of lacquer items at Pagan is dominated by the technique known as yun. This Burmese word means both ‘lacquer’ in general as well as specifically ‘the form of decoration where a surface is engraved and colour is then added’. This word appears frequently throughout the rest of this volume, almost always in the specific sense.

First of all, though, what is lacquer? All the very varied uses of lacquer are based ultimately on the remarkable properties of the resin of a tree common in much of Southeast Asia, Gluta usitata.
7 The tree is found in a number of different parts of Burma and was probably even more widespread in the days before forest clearance than it is today.8 The resin is harvested from the tree by tapping, in the same manner as rubber. When tapped, the sap is straw-coloured but quickly turns a glossy black. Morris describes the gathering of the sap, as follows:

The usual method of tapping is to make two deep notches to form a V. The notches are eight to ten inches long, and about two inches deep. At the base of the V, small bamboo cups are placed, with an edge stuck into a small horizontal cut just at the base of the V, in such a way that the oil which exudes from the V-shaped notch flows into the cup.

He then goes on to describe how often the tapping can be done and also that it apparently has no deleterious effect on the health of the tree. Unlike rubber, lacquer has never been grown under plantation conditions, but gathered, haphazardly, in the forest.
10 Given the obsession which the British had with harnessing the natural products of the countries they controlled during the days of Empire, this is rather surprising and must reflect the lack of serviceable uses which the colonial administrators could find for the material.11 In Burma, though, there has never been any lack of uses for this versatile resin.

One of the remarkable features of lacquer sap is that it can be used as a coating on many different surfaces. Examples seen in this publication include split bamboo, wood, cane, palm- leaf, metal and leather. When applied to a surface, lacquer both waterproofs and heatproofs the object; it can carry colour and has adhesive properties; when mixed with powder, it can be moulded or sculpted; and it makes the substrate rigid. In addition, it is insect and bacteria resistant and, if thin enough, retains its flexibility; it is also a natural polymer. Thus, from a functional point of view it is very attractive. There are some disadvantages, but they are few compared to the many advantages: prolonged exposure to the raw sap for those in the lacquer workshops can cause a blistering rash (this seems to affect people differentially),
12 and, as an organic material, lacquer is subject to decay in humid and damp conditions. Further, as it forms a hard surface when dry, it is liable to crack if mistreated. Once broken, it is difficult to repair without the break being obvious. It is true, though, that until recently there were itinerant craftsmen who mended vessels, especially domestic ones where the importance of maintaining decorative integrity was less. Several of the functional items illustrated in this volume have been repaired.

For vessels — always the major product for lacquer application in Burma
13 — the other main raw material is bamboo, split into thin strips.14 The bamboo used in Pagan today comes from the Chin State, to the north and west of Pagan, and is transported to the workshops by river, first down the Chindwin and then down the Irrawaddy.15 The hollow lengths of bamboo are cut into shorter lengths, each length being the space between the nodes in the bamboo. These lengths are then turned on end and split further into strips. Each strip is shaved to make it smooth and the remnants of the node are chopped off. These strips are still too thick to be useful for making coiled basketry so, having tipped the end of the strip in oil to make it pliable, the worker skilfully makes a series of cuts in the top. This is then held firmly in the toes and each cut is pulled on, towards the worker, producing a thin, pliable length of split bamboo for either coiling or weaving.

Most vessels such as vases, offering vessels (hsun ok), bowls (except the small ones) and plates are made of coiled, rather than woven split bamboo, though in most workshops in New Pagan today both skills are to be found.16 The coiled vessels are made as follows. A strip of split bamboo is cut to make the correct length for the bottom of the wall of the vessel (the base is a separately coiled circular element which is joined to the walls later). A V-shaped cut is made in each end of the strip, at the top of one end and the bottom of the other. These can then be ‘hooked’ on to each other, thus holding this first element in the vessel in place; here and at other crucial parts of the construction, the strips may be tied in place with a small length of cotton. The next strip of split bamboo is then pushed against the ‘hook’, on the inside, slightly above the first round strip; it is then coiled upwards. The whole structure is built up by the repetition of this process.

Other vessels, such as small cups (made in very large numbers today in Pagan) and bowls, are woven on wooden mandrels (see cat 29) set on a spindle. Before being woven on the mandrel, the strips that will form the uprights and the base of the vessel are laid out across each other, and the base of the vessel is woven. When this is completed, the uprights are then bent up and the framework of the cup can be put on the mandrel; the base is held in place by a circular piece of wood with a point, which penetrates the centre of the bowl and passes through into a hole in the mandrel. The strips of bamboo used for these small cups

and bowls are very thin and made especially soft by being boiled first in water. In most instances these finely split strips of bamboo make up both the uprights and the pieces woven in between, but in a few cases horsehair is used for the woven element instead of bamboo (see p. 33, photo. below right; and cat 20).. This produces an extremely pliable vessel where the lips of the bowl can be pressed together without causing any damage to the vessel (see cat 21), as is famously and repeatedly demonstrated to visitors. This technique is much more time-consuming than making the vessels only of bamboo; it also requires special skills. Consequently, the horsehair cups and bowls are more expensive and are mostly produced by one or two skilled workers only.17

Next the interior of these small vessels is covered with thayo, a paste made of lacquer sap mixed with ash (other accounts of lacquer production mention that clay is sometimes used as the mixer). This application is done with the fingers. The use of this paste ensures that the interstices of the basketry are filled and that, the surface can be made smooth; indeed, most of the sequence up until engraving for decoration is a repetition of covering with thayo, drying, smoothing and re-lacquering. The number of times this is done determines the quality of the finished article. Once the first application is complete, the vessel must be dried in a cellar in dark and humid conditions for at least a week. It is for this reason that all lacquer workshops have a cellar, taik, where the lacquerwares —- in many different stages of production - can be stored away from direct sunlight and in humid conditions. The cellar is lined with wooden shelves on which the wares are stacked, and is entered by a trap-door. Because of the humidity requirement for curing the lacquer, the few months of the dry season are not suitable for making lacquer vessels. Once the vessel has dried it is brought out for the exterior of the vessel to be covered in lacquer paste. This is done by placing the bowl back on a mandrel, but this time attached to a bow-operated lathe (see below left and cat. 28c). This is activated and a piece of coconut husk, acting as a brush and dripping with lacquer paste, is held by the craftsman against the spinning bowl, thus coating the exterior.
18 Once more the vessel returns to the cellar for a further week of drying.

Once dry, the vessel is brought back to the workshop where it is mounted again on the lathe to smooth the outer surface where the lacquer paste has penetrated into the basketry. This is done by holding a blade against the bowl as it revolves (see below right). This coarsely evens out the surface. The metal blade is right-angled in shape (see cat. 28a, second from top) and is mounted on a wooden handle; the blade is periodically sharpened on a slab of abrasive sandstone to which a little water has been added. To enable different- sized bowls to be smoothed, there are several different-sized mandrels that can be fitted on to the lathe.

In the next stage the lacquer paste, thayo, is finer, being made of lacquer sap, thit si, mixed with the pounded ash of cow bones. This makes a smoother paste than the earlier one. Once more the vessel is attached to the lathe and the thayo is added using the fingers —- and with considerable skill. A cloth is used to smooth away any finger marks, and when the bowl is removed from the mandrel, the operator wears a little pointed cover over his thumb, so as to avoid any fingerprints on the tacky surface. Again it returns to the cellar for drying. As before, the next phase after drying is one of smoothing on the lathe, but this time, instead of the relatively coarse blade held against the revolving bowl, a stone is placed against it, followed by a handful of basketry shavings, which further refines the smoothing.19 After this there are a series of applications of raw lacquer (i.e. no longer mixed with ash or other thickening agent) to build up an increasingly smooth surface, both inside and out. Each time lacquer is applied, the vessel has to return to the cellar for drying. The greater the number of applications at this point, the finer the end product — and the more expensive it will be, not only because more lacquer is used but because it takes longer to make.20

At this point some vessels will have applications of lacquer sap to which red colouring has been added. Traditionally this colour — the most distinctive and brilliant of the colours used for Burmese lacquer —  was produced by adding powdered mercuric sulphide, cinnabar, to the lacquer sap; this mixture is known in Burma as hinthabada. Today other colouring agents, such as ochre or even red paint, are used, as hinthabada is expensive and has to be imported from China.
21 The mixture is added by hand on top of a richly glossy black lacquer surface. Again the vessel is returned to the cellar for drying and when ready comes out for its final polishing before engraving. The polishing is done on the lathe with a cloth using teak ash, which is ground up on a palette with a little water. After this it is washed. These two actions — polishing and washing — produce a dull surface which is required for the next major process: the engraving of the pattern. The vessel is structurally complete and now only lacks its decoration. In Pagan most vessels are decorated in a number of different colours on a single-coloured background; the most common colours for the designs are red, green and yellow (blue is found less frequently) and the backgrounds are usually red or black.22 This style of decoration is based on the principle that, when the smoothed surface of the vessel is engraved with a design and then covered in a mixture of lacquer and a colouring agent, the mixture will adhere where the design has been engraved but will not adhere — and can be wiped away — where it is not engraved. It follows that, if a multi-coloured design is planned, all that part of the design that is to be of one colour will need to be engraved at the same time, and that those parts that will be a different colour must be left unengraved; any part that is engraved will take colour when the colour-charged lacquer is applied.

Thus the first element in this sequence of decoration is for the design for one colour to be laid out by someone who has mastered the variety of different styles and motifs. The designer does this using a small engraving tool (see cat. 28 for two examples), with a mixture of free-hand and compass technique.23 The stylus is held in the right hand and is pushed across the surface to be engraved with the left thumb.24 As the point moves across the surface, it scratches down to the basketry beneath, leaving coils of debris which the engraver clears away as he works. The majority of the design is done freehand and seemingly entirely from memory. There are apparently no pattern books, nor is it necessary for the design to be measured out first; it is all arranged by eye. The work with the compass is restricted to concentric lines, usually around the edge of the main design at the top or on the base. The designer often undertakes the engraving of the more complicated elements, while younger, less-experienced workers fill in much of the detail — and in this style there is usually plenty of detail work. At the Htun Workshop today, as elsewhere in Pagan, designs are gathered from a variety of sources, including murals that range from the twelfth century to the more recent nineteenth-century examples of the Kon-baung dynasty.25

If the expensive hinthabada is used, it is prepared as follows. First it is weighed out and then a little water is added. After leaving it for a short period, any remaining water is pressed off and a pestle that has been dipped in peanut oil is used to mix it. Once the mixture is fully crushed, the lacquer sap, thit si is added, along with a little more peanut oil This mixture is applied to the outside of the vessel using a swatch of cotton threads, and then rubbed into the engraved surfaces using a handful of vegetable debris,
27 which presses the hinthabada mixture into the engraved surfaces. When finished, the vessel is once again returned to the cellar to dry for between seven and ten days, after which it is mounted on the lathe and rubbed with a handful of wet rice-husks. This removes the red colouring from the surface, except where it is embedded in the engraved design. The bowl is left to dry in the sun and then put back in the cellar for a further week. When it comes out, the surface is matt from the polishing with the wet rice-husks and is ready to be engraved again — but for another colour.

At the Htun Workshop the next colour to be engraved is green, which is done according to the same principle as before but with different details, including the use of glue as well as lacquer. The glue is made by dissolving lumps of resin from the acacia, or htanaung, tree in water,28 and the mixture is then strained through a cloth. The vessel is covered with the glue, and the part of the design that is to be green is engraved using a small engraving tool, which is sharpened, as required, on a small sandstone slab. Next the cup is mounted on the mandrel and thit si is rubbed over the outer surface. This is then wiped off, but where it has settled in the engraved design, it remains so that when the green colouring powder is rubbed on to the surface of the vessel, the thit si acts as an adhesive and the green colour remains.29 The vessel is then returned to the cellar for drying for a further seven days. This whole process is done a second time, and when finally dry, it is taken from the cellar and washed, using shavings from the lathe. The water removes the glue and the green colour from everywhere except where the design has been engraved. It is returned for a final session in the cellar where it hardens; for the best quality it should stay there for at least ten days. The last process, before it goes to the sale room next door, is to polish it on the lathe.

A similar sequence was recorded for the addition of yellow, starting with an application of the acacia tree glue, followed by engraving, in the instance recorded, with a ruler and a pin mounted in a wooden handle to create a series of straight lines (see cat. 28, bottom). Yellow was certainly a secondary colour in this instance, reserved for the decorative borders. The main free-hand design was produced in red and green. This is followed by the same sequence of covering with plain black lacquer, wiping it clean, then adding the yellow powder — all of this accompanied by repeated periods of drying in the cellar. In this instance the final polishing was recorded in detail. After the vessel comes from the cellar for the last time, it is polished not only with powder made from teak charcoal, which has been wetted before it is powdered, but also with powder ground from lumps of fossilized wood.
30 This is then washed off with wet and then dry cloths before a final buffing with the hands.

The above observations are concerned almost entirely with the preparation of the exterior of the vessel. The interior is rarely decorated, except perhaps for some concentric rings around the rim and red colouring. When colouring with red, the inner surface is first of all rubbed with emery paper and then cleaned with a cloth and water. Thit si is applied to the inside and the vessel is then placed back in the cellar for seven days to dry. This work has to be done in sunlight to ensure that any excess water in the thit si can evaporate. After the period of drying, the red hinthabada is applied, as usual, by hand. Again this operation has to be done in direct sunlight because of the thit si in the hinthabada,
31 which means that the months of the monsoon, June—September, are not good for this stage in the process, as the cloud cover is often great. Usually a team of several men sit together and colour the interiors of a large number of vessels, all at one sitting. The first man roughly applies the hinthabada and then sets it in the sun for five minutes or so to ensure a good colour. Next two men work in the hinthabada, and the fourth one finally smooths it, making certain that there are no inclusions. After each stage of this process the vessel is put in the sun as after the first stage. Then, of course, it needs to go back to the cellar for final drying before it is quickly dusted off and sent to the shop for sale.

A small amount of gold marbled work is made at the workshops in New Pagan, but this technique has only been introduced from Japan within the last few decades. It remains to be seen whether it will become popular.

Apart from yun engraving, the other main technique practised at Pagan today is the black and gold, shwe zawa method of decoration. This work was witnessed at the Htun Workshop in 1995. It is clear from examples with known dates of purchase that this technique has been used at Pagan for much of the twentieth century,
33 though in the nineteenth century it was more connected with Prome, and especially, at the end of that century, with Hsaya Pa.34 At Pagan today this technique begins with placing a quantity of resin of the neem tree in water, which by the next day has formed a viscous glue. This is then strained through a cloth and mixed with the yellow colouring agent, which in the past would certainly have been orpiment (arsenic trisulphide).35 Based on the principle that where the gum/orpiment mixture is painted on, the gold leaf will not adhere, the technique is usually applied to items that have been prepared with a very high-gloss black surface, thus providing a contrast between the black and the gold.

The design on the plate recorded at the Htun Workshop was a mythical lion, chinthe, at the centre with leaf borders at the rim. The outlines of these are drawn in — free-hand for the chinthe and with a compass for the border — using the yellow colour/gum mixture. This means that at the end of the process the outlines will remain black. Details within the design, such as the coat of the chinthe and the interior of the leaves in the border, are then engraved. The rest of the plate is dusted with a powder made from pulverized petrified wood, and then the whole of the plate other than the area already drawn in outline (the chinthe and the border) is covered with the orpiment and gum mixture. The interior of the chinthe and of the leaves of the border are thus the only part left black, as it were ‘in negative’. The yellow mixture quickly dries and the plate is again covered with a dusting of the pulverized fossil wood. A layer of lacquer or varnish is applied,
36 and the plate is wiped clean; the sheets of Mandalay gold leaf are then pressed on to the area which has had the yellow/gum mixture applied to it.37 The gold leaf is peeled off its distinctive paper backing and pressed into place using a cotton swab that has had a little oil added to it. Any gold that does not adhere is caught up in the oily cotton and is then cleaned by someone who will recycle the gold leaf. Once all the gold leaf is pressed into place, the plate is set aside in the cellar to dry. Before it has become hard, it is brought out and carefully cleaned in a bowl of water. The water quickly becomes brilliantly yellow from the orpiment/gum mixture, which soon comes away from the surface of the plate, leaving the gold leaf attached to the reserved surface, in this case the chinthe and the leaf border


This completes the record of the work carried out in the Htun Lacquer Workshop in New Pagan in October 1995. On the evidence of that visit, by far the most numerous objects being made in the workshop were basketry vessels decorated with the engraved, yun technique in red, green and yellow, with some blue. Certain items of furniture were also seen in the workshop: circular and octagonal tables (the latter a design imported from northern India during the colonial period), chests, and screens. There was no sign of any relief-moulded work, though on a previous visit to Pagan a mould for pressing out repeating thayo elements was seen (see cat 31  for such a mould). Such work has clearly been done there in the past, despite the prominence today of the yun technique. The main market for the wares produced was the tourist trade — buses of visitors to Pagan regularly stopped at the premises during the making of this record — and, despite the political turmoil in the country, there appears to be a sufficiently steady stream of visitors to enable this workshop, and others at Pagan, to continue in business. Generally, however, centres of lacquer production in Burma are now few because of the greater reliance on metal and plastic vessels for domestic use, though while the whole of Southeast Asia remains a tourist destination, it seems likely that the lacquerware traditions of Pagan will continue.


1 Burney1832.
2 Morris 1919.
3 Fraser-Lu 1985 (new edition forthcoming); also Fraser-Lu 1994: 221—51.
4 Blurton 1999: 103—16. Some authors have also completely incorrectly described the production of engraved, yun lacquer vessels, such as Talbot Kelly 1905: 180 and Yule 1858: 157 and 197—8 (the former probably drawing on the latter, whose quality of information is usually dependable). Even the redoubtable Scott, writing under his nom-de-plume Shway Yoe (1882: 277—8), fails to describe the
technique correctly. The mistake common to all three writers was the assumption that the pattern is exposed on the surface of a vessel by smoothing down through a layer of lacquer to the previously laid-on design. They entirely misunderstood the purpose of the engraving, as is described here.
5 Made by U Htein Win of Rangoon.
6 New Pagan is the settlement to which all the lacquer workers of Pagan were forcibly moved by the government in 1990; it is located to the south of Myinkaba village, close to the Lawkananda pagoda.
The Htun Lacquer Workshop (G/i, Khanlaung Quarter, New Pagan) is, like most lacquer establishments in Pagan, made up of two separate elements: workshops and a sales area. The latter also has facilities for potential buyers to be provided with refreshments. The pressure of non-Burmese tourists in Pagan has had an effect on the industry. Those items not sold in Pagan itself are transported to Rangoon, while large quantities are also exported to parts of Southeast Asia with high tourist exposure, such as Bangkok. This tourist market is countered by a decrease in sales to Burmese, as vessels made of mass-produced metal and plastic force lacquer out of the market, especially for domestic vessels. This lacquer workshop was founded about seventy years ago by the grandparents of the present proprietor. It only opened in New Pagan, however, in  1991. One of the workers who has been there for fifteen years trained at the Lacquer School for eight years (for the Lacquer School at Pagan, see Fraser-Lu 1986), having started there at the age of thirteen. Some of the designs used at Htun are those developed at the school, while others have been invented ‘in house’.
7 Previously known as  Me!anorrhoea usitafa or usitatissima.
8 Nathaniel Wallich in 1828 mentions seeing it near Prome and later at Martaban, as well as in the Salween valley; in the Imperial Gazetteer (1908) under ‘Pegu, District’ (vol. XX, p. 90) there is mention of the thitsi tree j.. among trees which  have a marketable value’ (whether for the wood or the sap is not indicated). Morris, in 1919, says: ‘The bulk of the present supplies [of lacquer sap] come from Katha and the Shan States and it is estimated that the total output is about 200 tons a year.’ Certainly the Shan States was the source for the lacquer used at the Htun Workshop in Pagan in 1995, which cost then 7,500 kyat for a box of 10 viss; they used approximately fifty boxes of this size per year. In addition to specific locations in the southern Shan States (Momeik, Loilem, Kengtung and Lawsawk), Fraser-Lu (1985: 8) also refers to Katha in the Sagaing District and Bhamo in Kachin State as sources for raw lacquer. She also mentions areas where second quality lacquer comes from. Morris 1919: i defines the tree as a ‘fine upstanding tree found particularly in the drier forests of the province up to 3,500 fee
9.  See p.26 for Wallich’s slightly different method of collecting the sap.
10 Morris has something to say on this subject: ‘Bad methods of tapping threaten the future supplies, and the question of preserving the tree and regulating tapping is under consideration. At present the right to tap trees is subject to forest licences, but there is no attempt to ensure scientific and safe methods.’ Morris 1919: 2. So far as we know, there never was any attempt to regulate tapping.
11 Burney in 1832 (p. i8o) did make several suggestions, such as for ‘ladies’ square work boxes, and gentlemen’s hats’. A recent acquisition in the British Museum is of exactly such a ladies’ sewing box, with internal tray (oA 2000.2—3.1). It was used by a British teaching/missionary family based in Burma between 1915 and 1940, and bears an inscription with the maker’s name, Hsaya Ba. Burney
also suggested several more industrial uses for lacquer such as the waterproofing of boats and rigging, as well as caulking: ‘ I applied a coat of it [lacquer], in the absence of paint, to the sides of some gun-boats, and found the material cheaper and more durable than paint.’ Burney, delightfully, was not prepared merely to speculate but was keen to experiment. See cat. 153, 157 and 174 for examples of vessels made of lacquer but in European shapes.
12 Again Burney (1832: 170) is one of the first to record this effect, though see also the Edinburgh Journal of Science, 1828, 96—100, for an even earlier mention.
13 For the techniques of lacquer use other than for vessels, see the relevant entries in this catalogue, e.g. for the method of making dry-lacquer sculpture, see cat. 39; for items decorated with gilded and moulded lacquer paste, see cat. 33.
14 Traditionally bamboo had an almost universal usage in Burma. Yule (1858) speaks of ‘the all-useful bamboo’ and (p. 153) lists forty different usages of bamboo, including ‘cooking pots... clothes-boxes, pan-boxes, dinner trays...’, all of which are illustrated in this volume.
15 According to the 1912 Burma Gazetteer: Lower Chindwin Disfrict, Upper Burma, under the entries for the two villages of Kyaukka North and South, both important centres of manufacture of lacquer vessels even today, ‘The variety of bamboo used is the tinwa, which is imported from the Upper Chindwin, the quality which renders it suitable being its pliancy.’ This is no doubt the same today.
16 Although not recorded at the Htun Lacquer Workshop, other investigators mention that preparation of the basketry substrates is farmed out. This would certainly make sense as huge quantities of these frames were stored in the Htun workshop, probably more than could be produced within the workshop itself. A common sight on the road to New Pagan is groups of people, on foot or bicycle,
carrying enormous numbers of ready-woven basketry shapes for betel-boxes. Further, the author saw rio evidence of matting being woven in the workshop, and amounts of this will have been used for items such as large trays.
17 At the Htun Lacquer Workshop the specialist in this technique was Win Ma Aye. From personal observation, it is usually women who do both types of weaving on the mandrel — with plain bamboo and with bamboo and horse-hair.
18 The author was pleased to discover, several years after this fieldwork, that Burney records exactly the same utensil in use in 1832 (p 170).  ‘Generally, to save the hand, the first coat is applied with a rude brush made of the husk of the cocoa-nut.’
19 In the example witnessed, the shavings used were those produced from the previous work on the lathe.
20 Morris mentions that the very finest wares may have as many as twenty-six different applications. He goes on to say that as a result these vessels may take up to six months to produce and are consequently more expensive (Morris 1919: 6). At the Htun Workshop the finest wares may take up to eight months to produce. In nearby Myinkaba, at the workshop of U Aung Myin, items of yun-decorated wooden furniture, such as chests of drawers or screens (see cat. i8o) may take up to two years to complete. The unengraved wares made in Kyaukka (black outside and red inside, see cat. 155) take less time: ‘Each article requires from two-and-a-half to three months to complete.’ See Burma Gazetteer: Lower Chindwin District, Upper Burma, Rangoon 1912, p. 125.
21 At the Htun Workshop they go to Rangoon to buy both cinnabar and orpiment.
22 Burney (1832: 172) records that the Pagan wares were noted for being decorated in red and green.
23 At the Htun Workshop the designer was Kyaw Kyaw.
24 Exactly the same arrangement is recorded by Burney at Ava in 1832 (p. 173).
25 See cat. 184 for a design copied from Pagan murals.
26 Fraser-Lu 1985: 13 mentions the use of shanzi, or tung oil, ‘which comes from a tree in the Shan States (Aleurites sppj’. Morris 1919: 3 & 6 mentions the same shanzi oil. Presumably the two oils have the same function in the mixing of the hinthabada. It may be that peanut oil is easier and cheaper to acquire today. Burney in 1832 says that shanzi oil comes from the tree Dipterocarpus
27 At the Htun Workshop they used the outer wrappers from maize cobs.
28 In this context it is perhaps no coincidence that the inscription on cat. 155 from Kyaukka mentions the workshop of lacquer-master U Htun as at ‘Acacia Grove’. The acacia is the source of the glue known in the West as ‘gum arabic’.
29 In the past green colour would be made from a mixture of the mineral dye, orpiment (arsenic trisulphide), and the botanical dye, indigo. Today, we suspect that a mass-produced chemical colour is used and Fraser-Lu, writing in 1985, records the (then) current use of house-paint.
30 This unusual material is easily found in and around Pagan. Burney 1832: 170—71 says that the tree is called ‘en-gyen’, that it is Ficus religiosa, and that the powder is termed ‘en-gyen kyouk-tshowe amhoun.’
31 Compare Burney 1832: 178: ‘The workmen seem to prefer always to use the varnish in the sun.’
32 See cat. 59 for a typical example of this work.
33 For a cup decorated with a shwe zawa design which was acquired fl 1920 at Nyaung U, close to Pagan, see cat. 159.
34 For mention of this master craftsman, see Watt 1904 (he won a commendation at the Indian Art Exhibition at Delhi in 1902/3) and Morris 1919.
35 The author did see some of this at the Htun Workshops where it is undoubtedly sometimes used. However, it is unlikely to be used every time yellow is required; that used for the shwe zawa work witnessed for this record was exceptionally bright and looked rather like poster paint. It is apparently imported from China.
36 Traditionally this would certainly have been lacquer, but today it is called ‘furniture polish’; Fraser-Lu 1985: 23 says ‘lacquer or varnish’.
37 For the preparation of gold leaf of this type, see Keretsky 1991.