2000. 222 pages, 361 colour plates, 19 black and white plates, 20 line drawings, 23 x 22 cm.
ISBN-10: 974-8304-82-5 Softbound: $45.00
ISBN-10: 974-8304-83-3 Hardbound: $58.00
Light on Lacquer
Two recently released books on Burmese lacquerware reflect the considerable expertise of their authors, with lavish illustrations to match.
Book review by Michael Smithies
(The Nation, Bangkok, February 18, 2001)
The number of Burmese lacquerware experts must be fairly limited, so it
is extraordinary that two books should come out in Bangkok in the same
year on the subject, by authors who clearly know and respect each other.
Of the two, the prolific Sylvia Fraser-Lu, with books
on batik, regional textiles, silverware and other crafts behind her, has
a more hands-on approach in the second edition of her book, which first
appeared in 1985. She carefully describes the origins of lacquer in Burma,
the lacquer process, techniques of lacquer decoration, design motifs, and
objects for secular, religious, and ceremonial use. She then details information
about current lacquer production centres in Burma, and lacquer collections
both in Burma and overseas. The whole comes with two appendices (both in
the text numbered “1”), endnotes, a glossary, a bibliography,
and a comprehensive index.
To illustrate her text she has a vast number high-quality
coloured plates, and a few line drawings which are rather less impressive.
She is particularly good, as one would expect of someone with a large book
on Burmese crafts behind her, on the actual techniques and varieties of
forms the lacquer works can take.
It would seem from her remarks that Burma’s limited
tourist industry keeps the craft going, and that many centres which flourished
20 years ago are largely in decline. This is to be regretted, as lacquer
objects were originally made for daily use as much as for ceremonial or
religious purposes, and works made for the tourist trade are rarely of
Orchid Press has put the text and illustrations in an
almost square book, the format one suspects being dictated by the size
of many of the objects shown. There are notably few typos, except when
it comes to putting accents over letters, where every one is wrong, and
there is a consistently redundant and intrusive comma after giving dimensions
and before a parenthesis “24 cm, (National Museum)”, for example.
These are small points though, for the book is visually attractive, as
well as clear and informative.
The River Books volume appears to be a local reprint
of a catalogue of an exhibition ‘Visions from the Golden Land: Burma and
the art of lacquer’ held at the British Museum from April to August last
year. It is centered around the collection of Mr and Mrs R. Isaacs, recently
made when they served in Burma in the British Council and donated to the
These two books, covering such a narrow craft field,
occasionally repeat information and even items illustrated, but by and
large they tend to be complementary, and a potential buyer would be hard
put to it to choose one over the other.
[More Orchid Press Reviews]