August 11–December 10, 2017

Lacquer is the sap collected from the lacquer tree, a plant species native to Asia and known in Japanese as urushi no ki. It cures as a hard and inert substance, producing an extremely durable coating that protects objects made of wood and other materials against moisture. It can be colored by adding different agents, such as iron filings for black and the mineral cinnabar for red. Surfaces coated with lacquer can be carved with design patterns, incised and sprinkled with metallic powders and particles, or inlaid with mother-of-pearl and coral. As the decorative arts form most closely associated with the country of Japan, lacquer and lacquerware have historically been referred to as “japan.”

This exhibition presents a selection of Japanese lacquerware from the collection of Dr. Elizabeth E. Force, ranging from literary boxes to incense utensils, from inrō (carrying cases with small compartments) to household items. Made in the 18th and 19th centuries, these utilitarian objects are exquisitely crafted and decorated. They attest to the refined skills of lacquer artisans in Japan’s late Edo and early Meiji periods.

Dr. Elizabeth E. Force is a retired medical researcher, who has formed a collection of Japanese and Chinese art that has been promised to the Smith College Museum of Art. She has turned her focus to Japanese lacquer in recent years, because “collecting this art provides an environment of visual beauty, spiritual reflection, and cultural civility.” We are grateful to Dr. Force for her ongoing commitment to strengthening SCMA’s Asian art holdings, and for her generous support of this exhibition and the accompanying publication.

This project is funded by the Nolen Endowed Fund for Asian Art Initiatives with additional generous support for the exhibition catalogue provided by Dr. Elizabeth E. Force.

Image: Document Box (Ryōshibako) with Maple and Deer. Edo period (1615–1868), mid-19th century. Lacquered wood with gold and silver takamaki-e, hiramaki-e, kirikane, cut-out gold foil application, black and red lacquer accents, and mother-of-pearl inlay. 5 ¼ x 12 ¼ x 15 ½ in. Photograph by Matt Vought.