Lacquerware refers to decorated objects made out of wood or often dried gourds. This folk art form incorporates elements of pre-Hispanic, European and Chinese traditions which came together in colonial
Mexico and continue to develop today. First the wood or gourd surface is coated with a mixture of chía seed oil, made from the seeds of the Salvia plant, and aje, a waxy fat from an insect. Then a layer of earth is placed on top to absorb the oil. This “earth varnish” or lacquer is smoothed out and polished with a stone and the heel of the hand. This process may be repeated a number of times. Pigments can be added to create the background color.
Recently, artists have begun to mix the background color in with the oil and have applied it with a brush. After it is dried, which may take several days, the decoration is applied. There are three types of decoration, painted, incised and inlaid. Painted lacquerware employs pigments mixed with chía oil and applied with a brush to create pictorial scenes and patterns. Incised lacquerware utilizes negative space and multiple layers of colored lacquer. Decorative motifs are carved away to reveal another color of lacquer. Inlaid lacquerware is also carved. Deeper levels of the wood or gourd are revealed and then meticulously painted. All three techniques have the same final step, another layer of chía oil and/or aje are applied to the surface which is rubbed with a cloth to create a luster and protect the decorations.