Red Lacquer Box with Bird Designs Olinala, Mexico wood, lacquer pigment 3" tall x 10.5" long x .25" wide
Mexican lacquerware (laca or maque in Mexican Spanish) is one of the country's oldest crafts. In the pre-hispanic period, a greasy substance from the aie larvae and/or oil from the chia seed were mixed with powdered minerals to create protective coatings and decorative designs. During this period, the process was almost always applied to dried gourds, especially to make the cups that Meso-American nobility drank chocolate from. After the conquest, the Spanish had indigenous craftsmen apply the technique to European style furniture and other items, changing the decorative motifs and color schemes, but the process and materials remained mostly the same.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the craft waned during armed conflicts and returned, both times with changes to the decorative styles and especially in the 20th century, to production techniques. Today, the artform is thriving, with workshops in the state of Guerrero, Michoacan, and Chiapas creating colorful trays, boxes, chests, and gourds with traditional flora and fauna designs.