Tips to help you buy lacquerware during your travel in Sri Lanka
Traditionally considered to be a Kandyan craft, lacquerwork is uniquely Sri Lankan and every piece of this craft is a tribute to the island’s rich culture.
The term lacquer originates from the Sanscrit word laksha meaning “wax”, which today refers to the resinous secretion of a number of species of Lac insects. Working with lacquer is long and difficult which is why the beauty of the finished product is unmatchable even in small artworks.
In Sri Lanka, the resinous pigments are collected in small bags from branches of Keppitiya trees that host colonies of these insects. The resin is then melted and mixed with natural dyes (red, yellow, black and green mineral dyes) before being reheated. The settled lacquer is then shaped into the final object by chipping away at it. The process of colouring is done by using fingernails (Niyapotten-weda) and the design is polished using palm leaves. This method is specific to Matale. Because of the skill and time involved, the finished pieces are highly sought after.
Lacquer products in Sri Lanka are often small, decorative items such as coasters, animal figurines, letter openers, bookends, wooden handles and pill boxes.
Be careful when choosing a lacquerwork. Some lacquer-like objects are in fact wooden objects painted with layers of varnish.