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The Creation of a Russian Lacquer Box

If one knew how much time and effort went into the creation of a Russian lacquer box, one would think them inexpensive indeed. Sergey Turin, who produces some our finest boxes, showed us how his boxes are made using the technology first developed by Piotr Korobov two hundred years ago near Moscow and refined over the centuries. Here is a synopsis:

creating lacquer boxes

Making the blank box. The blank, unpainted papier-mache box alone takes six weeks to produce. The process begins by coating strips of cardboard with a flour and water paste and then wrapping and compressing the strips around a wooden mold of the desired shape. After the paste has penetrated the cardboard and set up, the side is slipped from its mold and dried in an oven together with unmolded parts of the box.

Slipping the molded sides from the mold.

lacquer box construction

After drying, the box parts are submerged in boiling-hot linseed oil for 20 minutes to an hour and a half. For the final drying process, the box parts are placed in an oven starting at 50 degrees centigrade. Over the course of a month the temperature is slowly raised to 120 degrees and then lowered to room temperature. Then the parts of a box are glued together.

Immersing the molded cardboard in boiling-hot linseed oil.

russian lacquer boxes

The surfaces must be carefully prepared to assure that all layers of finish adhere to the box. After a prime coat of a special gray paint is put on, the box once again goes into an oven and held for 24 hours at a temperature of 70 to 100 degrees. Then a base coat of a terra-cotta finish is applied and it, too, is baked at 100 degrees this time for 48 hours. Finally, a coat of the gray base coat is applied. After each coat, the surfaces are sanded by hand to assure a strong bond with the next coat. It is a time-consuming process, which stretches out over six weeks.

Applying the first base coat.

painting the lacquer box

The painting. The painting of the picture is more involved than one would expect. The artist paints the picture in layers. Between each layer, he or she applies a coat of lacquer. The first layer is a base color of the painting. The second layer adds more colors. The third and successive layers add more and more colors and details until the picture is complete. Usually, there are four or five layers. After the painting is complete a protective film is put over it.  A separate artist usually paints the filigree, which on Sergey’s boxes often contains touches of color coordinating with a color in the painting. The lovely settings and the exquisite filigree of Sergey’s boxes combine with the painting to produce boxes of extraordinary beauty.

A box blank with a painting of Princess Saltikova on it. The setting will be painted next.

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picture setting and filigree

The picture setting and filigree. The pictures of many boxes have simple, black settings with filigree. The settings of the pictures in Sergey’s boxes, however, are works of art in themselves. The area around the picture and the sides of the box will sometimes have a tartan effect. Other times it will be brush streaks of a dark color on a lighter, and at other times, a watermark effect. The colors of the settings coordinate with colors in the picture. The effect is stunning.

Polishing. Seven coats of lacquer are sprayed on. Each is sanded before the next is applied. The final coat is brushed with a yarn brush and pumice to a brilliant sheen. This is the final step in the creation of a beautiful work of art.

The final step: Polishing with a yarn brush and pumice.

We are pleased to be able to offer our customers boxes of such quality.