Arts of Asia in Reach
Lacquerware Boxes Lesson Plan
1. Lesson Overview

A Lesson for Students Ages 7-10, Grades 3 & 4
Designed by Loren Fawcett, Education Assistant, Allen Memorial Art Museum


This lesson is based upon Japanese lacquerware and the Allen Memorial Art Museum's (AMAM)document box and tray from the Meiji period (accession # 1954.89). Below is an excerpt taken from the AMAM web site written by former Curator of Asian Art Charles Mason.

Asian lacquer is derived from the sap of the tree rhus vernicifera.When refined, brushed onto another surface, and allowed to dry, it provides a highly durable finish that protects against temperature, humidity, and insects. Long admired in China, Korea, and Japan for both its protective and aesthetic properties, this medium has been used for millennia in the manufacture of a variety of objects, from food utensils to storage containers for paper, textiles, or other materials sensitive to environmental damage.

Primitive lacquering was known in Japan as early as the third century B.C., but did not develop into a significant art form until the introduction of Chinese lacquering techniques in the seventh or eighth century A.D. Japanese craftsmen quickly developed the art in new ways, and by as early as the tenth century A.D. a uniquely Japanese style of lacquer work had already appeared. The most distinctive characteristic of Japanese lacquers is the extensive use of the maki-e, or "sprinkled picture," technique. Maki-e lacquers are created by sifting powdered gold, silver, or copper through fine bamboo tubes onto a wet lacquer surface to create a design. Once the lacquer has dried, the design can either be polished flush with the surface of the vessel (hiramaki-e), built up with extra layers of lacquer and powders to create a relief effect (takamaki-e), or covered over with additional coats of lacquer which are then partially ground away to give the appearance of the design emerging from the surface of the vessel (togidashimaki-e).

Raw lacquer is highly toxic and must be applied slowly and with great care. Moreover, each coat of lacquer must be fully dry before the next one can be applied. Since the surfaces of lacquer vessels may consist of several dozen coats of lacquer, the manufacture of lacquered objects may take months or even years of intermittent labor to complete. Because of these labor costs, combined with the costs of the precious metals used in the maki-e technique, high-quality lacquer wares were often extremely expensive.

- C. Mason

  1. Students will learn about the Japanese art of lacquer.
  2. Students will visit the AMAM and view the Japanese lacquerware document box and tray.
  3. Students will create their own box by mimicking the process of lacquerware.
  4. Students will learn about an aspect of Japanese culture from the Meiji period.
  5. Students will understand the complexities behind the process of creating lacquerware.

Academic Content Standards

  1. Visual Arts
    • Standard #1: Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes
    • Standard #4: Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures

Ohio State Standards
  1. Visual Arts
    • Benchmark 1C: Identify and describe the different purposes people have for creating works of art
    • Benchmark 2A:Demonstrate knowledge of visual art materials, tools, techniques and processes by using them expressively and skillfully.
    • Benchmark 3B: Apply comprehension strategies (e.g., personal experience, art knowledge, emotion, and perceptual and reasoning skills) to respond to a range of visual artworks.
    • Benchmark 4A: Apply basic reasoning skills to understand why works of art are made and valued.
    • Benchmark 5B: Use the visual arts as a means to understand concepts and topics studied in disciplines outside the arts.

  2. Social Studies
    • Obtain information from oral, visual and print sources.
    • Use historical artifacts, photographs, biographies, maps, diaries and folklore to answer questions about daily life in the past.
    • Identify and describe examples of how science and technology have changed the daily lives of people and compare (the uses of lacquer in some instances were eventually replaced by modern plastics and sealants)


Carved lacquer
(diaoqi) Method of decoration that involves carving built-up layers of thinly applied coats of lacquer into a three-dimensional design.

Engraved gold
(qiangjin) A decorative technique in which an adhesive of lacquer is applied to fine lines incised on the lacquer surface, and gold foil or powdered gold is pressed into the groves.

(diaotian or tianqi) Decoration in which lacquer is inlaid with lacquer of another color. There are two methods of filled-in decoration: one involves carving the hardened lacquer and inlaying lumps of other colors; the other is called "polish-reveal."

Hira Maki-e
A flat lacquer decoration with no relief. The powdered metals are sprinkled onto the surface while the coating is still wet. Then another coating is applied. At the end the surface is polished flat.

A decorative work of art usually made of wood and coated with lacquer, an organic sealant.

The general term in Japanese for lacquer decoration in which gold or silver powder is sprinkled on still-damp lacquer. There are three forms: hira maki-e (flat), taka maki-e (relief) and togidashi maki-e (burnished).

A Japanese lacquer technique that produces a reddish, speckled surface, also called "pear skin," by the sprinkling of especially fine, flat metal flakes over the half-dry lacquer base.

(moxian) A variety of "filled-in" lacquer decoration. Thick lacquer is applied repeatedly in certain areas to build up a design; then the ground is filled with lacquer of a different color and the entire surface is polished down to reveal the color variations.

Taka Maki-e
A lacquer technique where several coats of lacquer are applied to a surface to achieve a relief effect. Taka maki-e is the moste difficult of the Japanese lacquer techniques and requires very high skills.

Togidashi Maki-e
In this technique, the design is painted in lacquer, and gold or silver powder is sprinkled over it; when the lacquer is dry, another coat is applied to the design to fix the powder. Ro-iro-urushi (black lacquer without oil) is then applied over the entire surface, and, after it has dried, it is burnished briefly with charcoal.

A lacquer from the Japanese urushi tree. It imparts shiny and durable appearance. Urushi is usually black but can be of different colors with the addition of metallic pigments.

Continue to: 2. Lesson Materials