Lacquer masters show their stuff

Eggshell lacquering is a painstaking process, and a young artisan from Krousar Thmey carefully applies the pieces.
Eggshell lacquering is a painstaking process, and a young artisan from Krousar Thmey carefully applies the pieces. Miranda Glasser

Lacquer masters show their stuff

Tomorrow night sees the opening of the Sofitel Angkor’s s new exhibition, Master Lacquer and Textures Craft featuring the art of Eric and Thierry Stocker, who work with natural lacquer and traditional gilding techniques learnt in France.

On hand to answer questions will be Mr Ta Ly, the last ‘tree bleeder’ (someone who extracts the ‘blood of the tree’, or sap) in Kampong Thom province. Mr Ta is now 67 and has been harvesting lacquer for over 40 years.

Eric, a lacquer expert, first came to Cambodia in 1998 with the EU and then trained artists at Artisans d’Angkor, as well as working with Chanel and Louis Vuitton. He is passionate about reviving the lost art of harvesting and processing natural lacquer, something that was once ubiquitous. In the past, even the bas-reliefs of the temples at Angkor were coated in a protective layer of lacquer.

“In this exhibition we want to show people what lacquer is, and where it comes from,” says Eric. “We have invited Mr Ta Ly who cuts the trees and collects lacquer for us, and we have a project in Kampong Thom where we’re re-planting lacquer trees.

We’ve collected 2000 seeds, and this year will begin to plant them again on a 25 hectare plot – in 10-15 years we will begin to collect the sap.”

The 60-item exhibition will showcase some of the Stockers’ more unusual lacquer techniques, involving eggshell – items are painstakingly covered with tiny fragments of eggshell before being polished and lacquered to a smooth finish, with straw, silver leaf, and sand from the local river-bed. The sand and lacquer bowls are particularly striking – the rough slate-grey or brown sand exterior contrasting with the glistening gold interior of the bowl. The brothers employ 10 artisans to whom they have passed on their knowledge, including five young men from Krousar Thmey, the NGO working with deaf people. Eric says that they are particularly good at the eggshell technique, a job that requires the utmost patience and concentration.

“In the exhibition we want to show our paintings, and also the straw lacquer because it’s one of the textures we’ve developed,” says Eric. “We look at the past but we look at modern techniques too. You could say that the art of the workshop is lacquer, but with it we can mix different techniques.

“Artists have used this resin from trees for 3000 years, so we don’t want to forget.”

Master Lacquer and Textures Craft will run until November 15.

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