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Cultural: Natural lacquer

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龍南製漆-1Natural lacquer is the earliest paint used by human beings. The lacquer is extracted from lacquer trees and refined. It is the main ingredient for coating objects. It has been used for coating art crafts and household accessories for its resistance to moisture, heat and erosion.

Lacquer trees were not planted in Taiwan until 1911. The Japanese company, Saito, introduced the seeds from Vietnam and planted them in Yuchi, Governor-General of Taiwan, Academia Sinica, Forestry Administration, Forestry Research Institute, Xinshen Village in Renai Township and Huisun Forest Park. Because it was introduced from Vietnam, it is also called Annan Lacquer (the old name of Vietnam). This is the origin of natural lacquer in Taiwan.

The beginning of lacquer trees in Puli owes to the diplomatic conflict between Japan and China. The conflict then led to the difficulty of commercial relations and impacted the lacquer market. Thus Japanese manufacturers turned to Taiwan and the price of natural lacquer increased dramatically. The mild weather, sufficient sunshine and loose soil in Puli are beneficial for growing lacquer trees. The quality of natural lacquer is high. The annual production was only about 5 tons yet very popular and attracted many farmers to join this industry.

Although the price of raw lacquer was soaring, the quality was not guaranteed by the farmers and businessmen. The natural lacquer market then fell. In 1963, Mr. Xu Along thought that the quality of natural lacquer was good. The market should not be harmed by some farmers and businessmen. He then devoted to improvement. After a few years, his hardworking made customers change their impression and agreed the good quality of natural lacquer. Even the exportation to Japan had to pass Xu’s examination. In the 1970s, 90% of natural lacquer was made in Puli. The output value was stunning.

In 1986, Typhoon Wayne hit Taiwan and caused severe damages to lacquer trees. Farmers had suffered from great loss and change to grow higher-profited betel trees.

As the time changes, natural lacquer has been replaced with synthetic lacquer. The lacquer industry in Puli has decreased. Now the only existing Longnan Lacquer Company has witnessed the rise and fall of lacquer industry in Taiwan. Meanwhile, the second generation of the company has transformed the business to a natural lacquer museum and contributed to the preservation of Taiwanese traditional industry and culture.

After the 921 earthquake, the museum was greatly damaged. However, the owner and the family took preserving local culture as their responsibility and reconstructed the museum. The museum opened again after one and half year’s renovation. The museum now exhibits the history and relics of nature lacquer, lacquer art crafts of Ming and Qin dynasties. In addition, study tours for natural lacquer production are available in the museum. Visitors can also experience the pleasure of DIY lacquer crafts.

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