Paola Rosendo lives in Olinalá, Mexico's most important lacquerware center. The lacquerware made in this remote village in northwestern Guerrero is exported all over the world. The best-selling pieces are the guajes or jícaras and baules, but there are also trays, plates, boxes, screens and coffee tables, which are prized by collectors of Mexican folk art. Paola handcrafts all of these items with the love of detail so important in this art. She has become well known for her art, and the Novica (National Geographic) outlet sells her work.
Olinalá lacquerware is the main source of income. Most families in the town work as independent production units, often with special design motifs or signature colors. Artisans have distinct styles, but their work is almost never signed.
Lacquer work methods were known in pre-Hispanic Mexico and techniques brought from the Orient on the Manila galleons of the 16th and 17th centuries were perfected. Olinalá produces lacquerware similar in style and quality to the best examples made in China.
Decoration of a subject begins with sanding, after which the piece is sealed with a varnish prepared from oil and earth pigments. A stone is used to polish the surface until it is smooth, and the work is set to dry for up to a month. Olinalá artisans usually work in one of two styles: gold or striped. Named after the gold leaf that was once used to outline their decorations, dorado is distinguished by its marked floral or idyllic patterns or patriotic scenes from Mexican history and religion, which are painted on the first layer. Rayado is a more complicated, cut-out technique, in which parts of an outer layer of lacquer are stripped off to reveal the varnish in a contrasting color underneath.
The guajes come from the fruit of the jicara tree, while the wood for the baules traditionally comes from the scented wood of the linaloe tree. However, the linaloe trees have been exploited to such a degree that other woods are used more often and scented with essences purchased in Mexico City. In the past years in homes, large lacquer dressers have been used as wardrobes for the wonderful aroma of the wood.
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