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Pingyao glazes a trail

By Yang Feiyue and Sun Ruisheng | China Daily | Updated: 2022-07-28 08:20
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The making of lacquerware usually involves a few basic steps: wrapping the wooden item with linen and covering it with a mixture of parget and pork blood; polishing it with sandpaper and covering it with the mixture again, after which the process is repeated several times to create a smooth surface; painting on the refined surface; and polishing with sesame oil and brick dust until a distinct sheen appears.[Photo by LIANG SHENGREN/FOR CHINA DAILY]

Pingyao's lacquer art is known for its jade-like luster that comes from repeated hand-polishing. When the wood is manufactured into furniture, folding screens and tableware, it is first wrapped in linen and covered with a mixture of parget and pork blood for anticorrosion effects. It is then polished with sandpaper and covered with the mixture again. The process is repeated several times to create a surface smooth enough for later procedures.

Dexterous artists use lynx hair brushes to paint on the refined surface. The paintings are outlined with gold powder. Once done, the surface is covered with varnish, and hand-polished with sesame oil and brick dust over and over until a distinct sheen appears. A piece of lacquerware can take months or even years to finish.

"Lacquer art is the marriage between natural materials and intricate techniques," says Xue Shengjin, a master artist who has navigated the field for over six decades.

One of the 85-year-old's masterpieces, a lacquered decorative screen, features young women playing musical instruments while cranes kiss the clouds above a towering palace. The image is painted on smooth black lacquer, which is applied on an oak wood base for more than 100 times, rendering the work rich in color and gloss. It took Xue a year and a half to finish the screen that is 5 meters long and 3 meters tall.

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