Archive for the 'container' Category

Object: Huaorani Blowgun, Quiver with Darts, and Kapok-filled Gourd



Figure 1: Huaorani blowgun. From the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. 


Figure 2: Huaorani quiver with darts, kapok gourd (the kapok fluff is visible in the plastic bag above the quiver) and piranha jaw. From the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. 

E/1968/5/001, E/1968/5/002
Blowgun, Darts & Quiver
Ecuador, South America
Unknown Date
Materials: Wood with attached plant material (blowgun); wood basket containing plant material with attached metal beads, animal bone, and fur threads (quiver & darts)

Hailing from the Amazonian Region of Ecuador, the Huaorani (also commonly known as the Waorani, Waodani, and Waos) people are historically marked by their independent nature. [1] Although Western influence has crept into some aspects of Huaorani life, such as through the introduction of shotguns for hunting purposes, some Huaorani continue to make use of traditional hunting weaponry – namely, blowguns that can reach up to 11 feet in length. A full-length blowgun, complete with quiver and darts, is located in the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. In the past, these weapons held a more prominent position in Huaorani culture. In its prime, the blowgun was a remarkable influence in Huaorani kinship and social customs, and left a legacy that remains evident to this day.


Figure 3: Closeup of the end of a Huaorani blowgun. Notice that the blowgun is built from two sections of palm wood that have been reattached. From the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. 

The physical construction of these blowguns & their accessories sheds light on the immense skill possessed by these Huaorani craftsmen. Blowpipes are made from a split palm wood rod; the two halves are grooved, then reattached with beeswax and encased in vine bark. The Huaorani smooth out the opening created by the two grooves by placing sand inside the grooves and smoothing vertically with a slim, sturdy fishing lance. [1] Darts are created from the whittled stems of palm leaves and stored in a bamboo quiver. The Huaroani often apply curare, a potent neurotoxin, to these darts. [3] Other components of the Huaorani blowgun kit include a hollowed-out gourd filled with kapok (the fluff surrounding the seeds of Ceiba Petandra) [2] and a section of a piranha’s jaw, often attached to the rope connecting the gourd to the quiver.

When hunting with these blowguns, a wad of kapok is wrapped around the lower end of the dart. When the dart is inserted into the blowgun, air passing through the pipe will not pass around the sides of the dart but will build up behind the kapok wad, pushing the dart out of the blowgun at a high speed. [2] The Huaorani then use the sharp teeth on the piranha mandible to cut a deep notch on the front end of the dart. This ensures that the poisoned tip of the dart will break off in the intended target [3] and lead to its demise; the curare poison can kill an organism after just 2-3 minutes of exposure. [4] When firing the blowgun, the Huaorani build a tremendous amount of air pressure in their mouths and release it in one rapid exhalation into the blowgun, causing the dart to fly out at a high speed and with lethal accuracy. As the volume of the blowgun is less than a tenth than that of the human lung, the most important factor in firing a blowgun lies in the control of air expenditure exerted by Huaorani hunters, who are able to strike small targets (i.e., hummingbirds) upwards of 120 feet away. [3]

Take a look at the following videos for demonstration on the use of blowguns: Waorani (Huaorani) man demonstrating wrapping kapok around the darts & using the blowgun. Amazonian native, naturalist, and guide Juan Kunchikuy demonstrating the technique of modifying & firing darts at targets placed on the head of a New York Times reporter.


In Huaorani society, the significance of the blowgun encompassed many areas of their lives and culture. Prior to the introduction of shotguns in the 1970s, blowguns were viewed as symbolic tools used to monitor the social closeness between a variety of entities. One example lies in the close bond between the Huaorani and arboreal prey such as monkeys. The Huaorani hold a great deal of respect for these primates (esp. wooly monkeys) owing to their similarity in social structure and territoriality, going so far as to spare certain individuals while hunting and to share food sources with them. [1] When hunting monkeys, the Huaorani used the blowgun to down prey they feel a close social connection to, allowing the hunters to remove the spatial distance and social distance between them by using these primates for sustenance. [1]

In modern Huaorani culture, the blowgun no longer receives widespread use; its significance as a regulator of social proximity has also declined. However, its place in the Ethnology Collection at Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History ensures that its legacy and historical significance will always remain evident and relevant.

[Daniel Quintela]

[1] Descola, Philippe, and Gísli Pálsson. “Chapter 8: Blowpipes and Spears.” Nature and Society: Anthropological Perspectives. N.p.: Psychology, 1996. 145-65. Google Books. Google. Web. <>.  

[2]Smith, Nigel. “Oenocarpus Bataua.” Palms and People in the Amazon. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 401-12. Geobotany Studies. Springer Link. Springer International Publishing AG. Web. 20 Apr. 2016. < 1_50&*~hmac=caec4e8034004f90f686b3b44006eca9ccda4efeeff60aec2af86ff698194bb6>.  

[3] Talbot, Steve. In the Belly of the Beast: Technology, Nature and the Human Prospect. Ghent, NY: Nature Institute, 2004. The Nature Institute. Web. 20 Apr. 2016. <>.

[4] TheNewYorkTimes. “Kristof in the Crosshairs: A Blowgun Showdown in the Amazon | The New York Times.” YouTube. Google, 07 May 2008. Web. 20 Apr. 2016. <>.

Object: Aryballos

Figure 1    Arybollas with incised lion, bird and rosette pattern from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Aryballos with incised lion, bird and rosette pattern from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Aryballos with incised lion, bird and rosette
Greece: Corinth
Unknown Date, Late Corinthian
Materials: Terracotta

This jar, or aryballos, from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History measures 2 5/16” high with a circumference of 6 1/2”, the lip of the vessel is 1 1/4” wide while the handle is 1” L X 1/8” wide. The images on this vase include (from left to right) a lion, a bird (perhaps a goose or swan), and rosettes (flower shapes).

An aryballos is an oil jar used by Greek athletes during bathing. This type of jar could be carried on the wrist using a string looped through the small handle.[i] This usually spherically-shaped vessel originated in Corinth, Greece. However, other aryballoi jar shapes include oval, animal or even human-shaped vessels.[ii]

Corinth became the leading center for ceramic production in Greece during the Orientalizing period of the 7th century BCE. The term “Orientalizing” refers to the spread of Near Eastern or Egyptian themes to Greece during a time of intensive trade. The Near East and Egypt inspired both the shapes and designs of this type of pottery as well as the images painted on the vessels. Corinth experienced great success in the production of containers and through the invention of the black-figure firing technique. In this technique, incisions and color highlights were added to existing black silhouettes of figures.[iii]

Corinthian style vessels may be recognized by their yellow or beige-colored clay as well as by their decorations. Orientalizing period vessels, such as this aryballos, display floral decorations along with images of animals surrounding the body of the jar. Images of vegetation and animals spread from the Near East and Egypt, most likely through trade, and heavily influenced the themes of Greek vase decoration.[iv]

The aryballos from the Classics Collection, is an example of a Late Corinthian vessel style and most likely dates to around 600 BCE. The date may be assumed to be around this time because earlier vessels tended to be more precisely painted, sometimes with miniature figures. Because this aryballos does not appear as detailed, it was most likely created towards the end of the Corinthian period. Earlier Corinthian aryballos often featured one large figure, while animal images and small fillers like the rosettes are seen in later examples. [v] This aryballos therefore presents an interesting example of a Corinthian oil jar used by Greek athletes that was heavily influenced by Near Eastern and Egyptian design elements.

[Cacie Thomas]


[i] Clark, Andrew J., and Maya Elston. 2002. Understanding Greek Vases: A Guide to Terms, Styles, and Techniques. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum.

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Harvard Art Museum Aryballos Collection., accessed February 14, 2015.

[iv] Boardman, John. 1998. Early Greek Vase Painting: 11th-6th Centuries BC : A Handbook. New York City: Thames and Hudson.

[v] Boardman, John. 1974. Athenian Black Figure Vases. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Object: Creek Pottery Jar

Figure 1  Creek Pottery Jar from the Ethnology Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Creek Pottery Jar from the Ethnology Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Pottery Jar
Creek (Muskogee)
North America: Southeast
Mid 1800’s
Materials: Clay

This Creek clay pot is almost entirely undecorated except for a few minor incisions along the mouth. Approximately 10 inches high, and 8.5 inches in diameter, the jar has a globular body with a relatively short neck upon which are 46 incisions, slightly marred by a broken shard on one portion of the neck. The mouth of the pot is 5.88 inches wide. The pot is predominately brownish-gray with a large number “3” painted in red on the outside, most likely by the donor rather than the original potter. The pot has striations all along the outside, suggesting that it was roughened in the traditional Creek style, most likely accomplished through brushing with grass or corn cobs[1]. The pot was likely made in the mid-19th century, somewhere around the 1840’s.

Donated as part of an extensive collection upon the death of Robert B. Selvidge, a translator for the Muskogee Creeks and a long-time resident of Oklahoma, this pot and its sister piece were acquired in 1948 by the University of Oklahoma. Selvidge himself claimed to have moved to what was then Indian Territory in 1882 with his parents when he was young and wrote that they “settled among the full-blood Muskogee Indians…I was nine or ten years old before I can remember playing with a white child outside of my own brothers and sisters” thus having the opportunity to learn “the Indian language right along with the English language.”[2] Due to his interactions with numerous Native Americans during his job as a court translator for the Creeks, Selvidge acquired his extensive collection of Native American objects.


Figure 2   Two Creek pots from the Selvidge Collection in 1950, soon after their acquirement by OU from Selvidge’s estate in Eufala, OK. The one primarily discussed in this post is on the left in this image, figure A. Taken from Schmitt's article. Figure B, a close-up picture found between the two images of the pots, demonstrates the brush-marks, striations, found on the exterior of both of these pots.

Figure 2 Two Creek pots from the Selvidge Collection in 1950, soon after their acquirement by OU from Selvidge’s estate in Eufala, OK. The one primarily discussed in this post is on the left in this image, figure A. Taken from Schmitt’s article. Figure B, a close-up picture found between the two images of the pots, demonstrates the brush-marks, striations, found on the exterior of both of these pots.

Selvidge claimed that this pot was made in Alabama in the late 1830s or early 1840s and brought to Oklahoma, then Indian Territory, by the Creeks during the Indian Removal. While it is quite common to hear claims of objects being brought to Oklahoma during the Indian Removal of the late 1836-1837, these claims are nearly impossible to verify. Despite Selvidge’s assertion about this pot, it seems more likely that it was created in Oklahoma after the Removal. Making this distinction can be complex, as, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society, the types of Creek pottery made in Oklahoma, in general, “are indistinguishable from Okmulgree Fields Plain and Chattahoochee Brushed”, the two categories of pottery found in the historic Georgia homeland of the Creeks before the 1830s.[3] Despite this complexity in identification, an early analysis by Karl Schmitt of the particular Creek pots acquired by OU suggests similarities with two categories of Chickasaw pottery from south-central Oklahoma, developed in the 1840s and 1850s.[4] These two categories, Rock Creek Brushed and White Brushed, have similar tempers to that of this Creek pot, consisting of sandstone and fine-grained sand, and possess similar brushed surfaces to the two pots in the Selvidge collection. It is significantly more likely that the Selvidge pot was created in Oklahoma by Creeks who had traveled from Alabama and Georgia and thereafter intermingled with the Chickasaw and other Native American tribes, learning some of their pottery-making techniques.

While the Creeks understand themselves to be the descendants of a culture which spanned across almost the entire Southeastern United States before 1500 A.D. and the arrival of European settlers, their traditional homeland lies primarily along the river banks of parts of Alabama, George, Florida, and South Carolina.[5] The Creek are often mistakenly considered to be a single, unified tribe, when in fact they can be better understood as a union of several different tribes, a confederacy of sorts, in which each town, or talwa in Muscogee[6], consisted of members of similar kinship and cultural backgrounds which exercised relatively autonomous political authority[7]. Adding to European misconceptions, the very name “Creek” was given to the confederacy by English traders as a convenient label for the residents of the various towns.[8]

Figure 3    Names taken from the Creek tradition for county and city names demonstrate the continued importance of the Creeks in what is today their territory, just south of Tulsa. Taken from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website.

Figure 3 Names taken from the Creek tradition for county and city names demonstrate the continued importance of the Creeks in what is today their territory, just south of Tulsa. Taken from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website.

The Indian Removal Act of Andrew Jackson was enforced for the Creeks through a removal treaty, signed in 1832, which moved approximately 20,000 Creek Indians between 1836 and 1837 from their historic homelands in Georgia and Alabama to the newly established Indian Territory in what would become Oklahoma.[9] During this forced migration, the tribes known as the Lower Creeks, who had been significantly more Europeanized due to their proximity to English peoples, established farms and plantations along the Arkansas and Verdigris Rivers while the two provincial groups known as the Upper Creeks established smaller towns along the Canadian River and its northern branches, most prominently along the Deep Fork area.[10]

For Native Americans during the Removal period, pottery was a dying art, but there remains evidence that the Creeks were among the only three tribes in Oklahoma which continued to make pottery in what is known as the “historic period”, after the arrival of the Europeans: the Chickasaw, Creek, and the Choctaw.[11] These three tribes continue to make pottery today. The pot from the Selvidge collection was, almost certainly, used for cooking and food storage rather than artifice or sale, considering its lack of decoration. While it is almost impossible to know the definite origin of the Selvidge pot, the most likely explanation is that it was created in the 1840s after the Creek’s arrival in Oklahoma. Despite the lack of decoration on the pot, it remains a fascinating piece in the collection due to its age and obviously utility.

[Sarah Miles]


[1] Karl Schmitt “Two Creek Vessels from Oklahoma” The Florida Anthropologist 3, no. 1-2 (May 1950): 4.

[2] Robert B. Selvidge, Untitled Text accompanying collection likely written some in the early 1940s.

[3] Marshall Gettys, “Pottery, American Indian,” Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Accessed March 20, 2015.

[4] Schmitt “Two Creek Vessels from Oklahoma”: 6.

[5] “Muscogee (Creek) Nation History,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website, 2013, Accessed March 18, 2015.

[6] Steven C. Hahn “Creeks in Alabama,” Encyclopedia of Alabama, March 8, 2007, Accessed March 22, 2015.

[7] “Muscogee (Creek) Nation History,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website.

[8] Hahn “Creeks in Alabama.”

[9] “Muscogee (Creek) Nation History,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website.

[10] “Muscogee (Creek) Nation History,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website.

[11] Gettys “Pottery, American Indian.”


Works Consulted:

1. “Ceramics” Mississippi Archeology Trails, Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Accessed March 5, 2015.

2.  Foster II, H. Thomas. “Evidence of Historic Creek Indian Migration from a Regional and Direct Historic Analysis of Ceramic Types” Southeastern Archaeology 23, no. 1 (Summer 2004): 65.

3.  Gettys, Marshall. “Pottery, American Indian,” Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, Accessed March 20, 2015.

4. Hahn, Steven C. “Creeks in Alabama,” Encyclopedia of Alabama, March 8, 2007,    Accessed March 22, 2015.

5. Hopper, E.C. E.C. Hopper to J. Willis Stovall, Eufala, OK, April 8, 1948.

6. “Muscogee (Creek) Nation History,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website, 2013, Accessed March 18, 2015.

7. “Oklahoma Lakes, Rivers, and Water Resources,” published by Accessed March 20, 2015.

8. “Our Nation: Geographic Information” Chickasaw Nation Official Website, updated February 10, 2015. Accessed March 22, 2015.

9. Quimby, George I. and Alexander Spoehr “Historic Creek Pottery from Oklahoma” American Antiquity 15, no. 3 (January 1950): 249

10. Selvidge, Robert B. Untitled Text accompanying collection likely written some in the early 1940s.

11. Schmitt, Karl. “Two Creek Vessels from Oklahoma” The Florida Anthropologist 3, no. 1-2 (May 1950): 4.

12. Stovall, J. Willis. J. Willis Stovall to E. C. Hopper, Norman, OK, February 25, 1947.

Object: Hopi Jar

Hopi, Arizona, United States of America
ca. 1900
Materials: Clay, Mineral Pigment

This Hopi wide mouth, square shouldered jar is produced in the Nampeyo  style. Fish, rain, feathers, and other geometric designs are depicted on the outside surface. It has a red bottom, thick red rim band, and red horizontal dividing lines that are often seen in late 1800s Hopi pottery.

The Anasazi, possibly though as yet not definitively proven, were the ancestors of the Hopi people. They began making pottery around A.D. 700 due to successful agricultural practices, ending the need for a nomadic life. They lived in an area of the American Southwest known as the “Four Corners” region. Modern Hopi lands encompass a much smaller area of northeastern Arizona that sit in the middle of the Navajo Nation. Twelve villages are located in three regions called First Mesa, Second Mesa, and Third Mesa. The villagers of the Hopi town of Walpi still live a traditional lifestyle without electricity or running water.

Hopi potter Iris Nampeyo (1860 – 1942) revived the ancient style of Sikyatki pottery through potshard studies conducted with her husband, Lesou. Sikyatki was a large, ancient Hopi village abandoned around A.D. 1500. The wide red and black lines found on the jar in this blog, based on Nampeyo’s revitalization of ancient motifs, tell a dramatic story of the challenges of desert living and Hopi beliefs. Water is the most precious commodity in this area, so water creatures are believed to possess great power. Many symbols are used to represent various  forms of rain, and therefore water, in Hopi pottery. The framed stair pattern in the lower half of this jar symbolizes rain.

Members of the Hopi villages in northeastern Arizona have created beautiful pottery for generations using clay dug from tribal lands. Hopi potters begin with a base then employ a symmetrical hand-coiling method to build the walls of the vessel. A gourd scraper is used to smooth the sides. The traditional designs are applied with yucca fiber brushes using mineral pigments. Items believed to be important for survival, like water, food, prey, and spirituality, are the most common symbols found on Southwestern pottery. To learn a bit more about Hopi pottery check out this video.

Work Cited

Cole, Sally J.
1994   Roots of Anasazi and Pueblo Imagery in Basketmaker II Rock Art and Material Culture. Kiva 60(2): 289-311.

Colwell-Chanthaphonh, Chip.
2003   Signs in Place: Native American Perspectives of the Past in the San Pedro Valley of Southeastern Arizona. Kiva 69(1): 5-29.

Frank, Ross H.
1991   The Changing Pueblo Indian Pottery Tradition- The Underside of Economic Development in Late Colonial New Mexico, 1750-1820. Journal of the Southwest 33(3): 282-321.

Honea, Kenneth.
1973   The Technology of Eastern Puebloan Pottery on the Llano Estacado. Plains Anthropologist 18(59): 73-88.

Jett, Stephen C., and Peter B. Moyle.
1986   The Exotic Origins of Fishes Depicted on Prehistoric Mimbres Pottery from New Mexico. American Antiquity 51(4): 688-720.

Smith, Alexa M.
2000   Zoomorphic Iconography on Preclassic Hohokam Red-on-Buff Pottery: A Whole Vessel Study from the Gila River Basin. Kiva 66(2): 223-247.

Zaslow, Bert.
1986   Symmetry and Contemporary Hopi Art. Kiva 51(4): 233-253.

[Astrud Reed]

Object: Manuscript Box

Kathmandu Valley, Nepal
ca. 19th Century
Materials: Bronze, Gold Gilding, Precious Stones, Persian Turquoise, Wood

Manuscript boxes like this one were used throughout Southeast Asia by both Hindus and Buddhists to store important religious texts. Their design varies with respect to materials and form. They all show intricate and ornate design work.

The top of this particular box shows the goddess Durga slaying Mahishasura (the buffalo demon), the theme of a famous Hindu story. No man, not even a god, could kill Mahishasura. The trinity of gods created Durga and gave her their weapons to defeat him. The battle of Durga is important in Hindu mythology and ancient art, and it is still told today.

Manuscripts featuring the story of Durga are considered amulets. They are valuable items that can protect their owners from some evil influences. This box is nailed shut, keeping its mysterious contents both safe and secret.

The Kathmandu Valley, where this box was made, has been an important site of cultural exchange since around 300 B.C. Located in Nepal, between India and Tibet, it contains a blend of both Hindu and Buddhist religions. An ancient trade route connected Asia, from Iran in the west, to China in the east. It linked cities in Pakistan, India, Burma and Thailand, and had a crucial stop in the Kathmandu Valley.

Artifacts from this area often reflect the diverse people that have passed through it. This box displays a Hindu goddess, but it contains inlaid turquoise from the Middle East and precious gems that are likely from Burma. It also draws on Burmese design, where manuscript boxes with feet were more common.

The spiral patterns and handcrafted details of this box are unique. They were created by the native people of Nepal, called the Newar. This box’s material, design and overall shape reflect the diversity of cultures, peoples, religions and materials that have existed in or passed through the Kathmandu Valley, from the 8th century to today. Watch the movie below to see a movie version of Durga slaying Mahishasura.

Work Cited
“The Newar Synthesis”. Accessed 1 October 2013, last modified 23 September 2008.

Ratanapruck, Prista.
2007 Kinship and Religious Practices as Institutionalization of Trade Networks: Manangi Trade Communities in South and Southeast Asia. Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 50(2/3): 325-346.

Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India
2013 Mythology of Durga Puja. SJFI: India. Retrieved from

UNESCO World Heritage Association
“Kathmandu Valley—UNESCO”. Accessed 1 October 2013, last modified 2013.

[Elly Roberts]

Object: Porcelain Dish

Dynastic China
Qing Dynasty, ca. 1796-1820
Materials: Porcelain, assorted colored glazes

Porcelain is made from a special type of clay called Kaolin, giving porcelain its distinctive white color.  The Kaolin is processed, shaped by the potter, given a primary glaze and then fired to over 1200°C to make the undecorated object. The porcelain is then ready for the application of colorful enamels, which make up the surface decoration.  With a second firing, the enamels bind to the glaze forming a smooth, bright surface.

The porcelain ceramic style was first developed in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) and became popular with the Chinese Emperors. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279) mass production of porcelain began with many of these beautiful objects being exported.  Porcelain became popular with the wealthy in Europe during the Medieval Period but the techniques remained a trade secret until German alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger successfully recreated them in 1708. Böttger’s work is an early example of industrial espionage as Böttger used reverse engineering techniques that remain popular in a wide range of modern industries.

This Qing Ceramic Dish are decorated with many colorful fruits and butterflies which demonstrate the influences of the European style through enamels and symbols. With such high demand and variation in the works, forgeries are common. Many of the porcelain pieces for sale today are imitations of the classic porcelain style. This great demand has also revitalized traditional porcelain techniques ushering in a golden age for hand-crafted Chinese porcelain.The following video demonstrates how porcelain bowls are made using an electric potter’s wheel instead of traditional foot powered wheel.

Work Cited

Asia Society the Collection in Context. “Dish.” 2007.

Gates, William C. “Asian Art Galleries: A History of Porcelain.”

Koh, NK. “Relationship between Falangcai, Yangcai, Fencai, and Famille rose.” November,

McGregor, John. “Porcelain: A Short History from 1708 to World War I.” 2005.

Nilsson, Jan-Erik. “Marks on Later Chinese Porcelain.” 2000. china-marks.htm

“Ten Rules on ‘How to Deal with Fakes.” 2000.

Seattle Art Museum. “Glossary.” In Porcelain Stories: From China to Europe.

[Travis Bates}

Object: Korean Jewelry Box

Jewelry Box
Seoul , South Korea
Unknown Date
Wood, Lacquer, Mother of Pearl, metal

This jewelry box was made using the traditional Korean process of creating shell-inlayed lacquerware. Lacquerware emerged as a popular art form in Korea during the Josean dynasty (1392-1910). The production of lacquerware is a lengthy process, requiring great care and dedication. First, the wood used as the core of the piece is carefully selected and allowed to dry for many years to ensure that it will never warp.

The lacquer coating is made from the sap of the local Rhus vernicifera tree. This tree has poisonous properties similar to those of Poison Oak in the United States. Artisans build immunity to the plant by exposing themselves gradually over an extended period of time. Each tree produces about half a cup of sap each season. After the sap is drawn from a tree, it cannot be taken from the same tree again for a few years. Historically, the collection of sap from the Rhus vernicifera tree was strictly regulated by the Korean government. As a result, lacquerware was only available to the elite class of society. Eventually, knowledge of the technique used to create lacquerware spread and it became more accessible to other classes.

The second step of the process requires the application of more than 20 thin layers of lacquer to create each piece. Each layer of lacquer must be allowed to dry and then polished before the application of the next layer to ensure that there are no imperfections. Once it has hardened, the lacquer is extremely durable being resistant to water, heat, and even mild acid.

The inlayed details are added last, often using mother of pearl shells to create a decorative design. The shiny surface of mother of pearl is created by a mollusk living inside the shell. Mother of pearl is also a local resource and can be found all along the coasts of Korea.

Korean culture is reflected in the design itself. The bird depicted on the jewelry box is a phoenix, one of the Four Guardians of Korea. As the guardian of the south, the phoenix represents elegance, virtue, morality, and a prosperous future. Korean lacquerware has been around for many centuries embodying these characteristics, and creating a strong form of art that will continue for many more years to come.

Take a look at this interesting video on making similar kinds of lacquerware:

Work Cited

Beautiful Lacquer Ware Created by Artisans. YouTube. YouTube, 20 Apr. 2012. Web. 28 Sept. 2013. <>

Department of Asian Art. “Lacquerware of East Asia”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2004)

Lee, Soyoung. “Art of the Korean Renaissance, 1400–1600”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (September 2010)

Bone, Flesh, Skin: The Making of Japanese Lacquer (Part 1 of 2). Prod. Asian Art Museum. YouTube. YouTube, 30 Apr. 2009. Web. 28 Sept. 2013. <>.

Barkley, Stokes F.A. “Rhus Verniciflua.” Plants for a Future. PFAF, n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2013. <>.

“Pinctada Margaritifera.” Pinctada Margaritifera. CIESM, Dec. 2003. Web. 29 Sept. 2013. <>.

Peabody Essex Museum. “A Teacher’s Source Book for Korean Art and Culture.” Korean Art and Culture (n.d.): 1-33. Peabody Essex Museum. Web. 29 Sept. 2013. <>.

[Lauren Fountain]

Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,695 other followers

%d bloggers like this: