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"Urushi(Japanese wood lacquer)" is a natural paint material which is gathered and refined from Urushi trees, which can mainly be found in Asia. Since the dawn of history, we commonly used wooden and earthen vessels coated with "Urushi" until we began to import porcelain from China. The techniques to decorate furniture and tableware, "MAKIE(Gold -lacquer work)"which is stuck powdered gold/silver or gold/silver leaf and "RADEN(Mother-of-pearl work)" , which is stuck sliced shells by using "Urushi", are well known as traditional craft works of Japan.
Lacquered "Urushi" has a uniquely pure beautiful shine, profoundly serene colors and gentle warmth of touch. Japanese have a particular affection for them and hold them in high esteem due to their unique ability to convey the richness of Japan's cultural heritage. In Japan, recently many artists consider "Urushi" an expressive medium of their own images other than that of more traditional practical uses like clay works and fiber art. They are discovering a new realm of "Urushi-work".

1) PROTECTIVE - Urushi is a liquid that can be applied to just about any surface wood, metal, cloth, ceramics, etc. When it solidifies, it becomes a very hard coating that waterproofs and protects the coated object from the effects of mold, mildew, and other forms of weathering. It also provides protection against caustic substances, such as acids. Only direct and prolonged exposure to sunlight will cause urushi to deteriorate. Urushi's hardness and durability make it an excellent protective coating for any object required to be preserved and used continually over a long period of time.
2) ADHESIVE - The first use of urushi was as an adhesive. Stone age people first used it in the making of spears and arrows. They discovered that pointed stone, or metal could be bound to wooden shafts using urushi. Today, its adhesive property is used to connect object pieces and to attach decorations using metal leaf, powder, shell, etc.
3) FORM AND SHAPE - By adding clay powder to thicken it, urushi can be shaped into decorative objects.Cloth is also given form and shape by coating it with rice glue-urushi mixture.
4) DECORATION - Urushi resin can be dyed black, red, brown, or yellow. Gold leaf, or powder is used to decorate objects. In addition, various types of shell inlay work is done to enhance the beauty of objects. Especially in Japan, the decorative power of urushi has become an important aspect of its artistic culture.

June 2003/Kenji Toki
For far more elaborate description with its history, click here.

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