Lacquer in the Americas

November 3, 2023

This post was written with Lucia Burgio, Evgeniya Ravtsova and Monica Katz

An ornately decorated casket, with metal lock and key
Barniz brilliante casket. Museum no W.7-2018 © Victoria and Albert Museum

Until about ten years ago, indigenous American lacquers were not materials we were very familiar with at the V&A. There were very few professional publications on them, and not many people were actively studying them. Additionally, there were language barriers that made it difficult to exchange ideas with other specialists abroad. Happily, over the course of the last decade, through generous donations, new acquisitions and re-discoveries within our own collection, we have developed our knowledge and expertise in these unusual materials, and we have also been able to reach out to our international colleagues working on objects of the similar type.

The organisers of the conference
Left to right: Evgeniya Rastova, Colombian Ambassador Nancy Benites, Lucia Burgio, Monica Katz and Dana Melchar © Victoria and Albert Museum 

To facilitate a gathering and exchange of knowledge, four of us teamed up, bringing together our different backgrounds and specialisms: Dr Lucia Burgio, V&A Lead Conservation Scientist; Dana Melchar, V&A Senior Conservator; Evgeniya Ravtsova, V&A International Programmes Manager; and Monica Katz, Conservator Emerita at the Hispanic Society of America, New York.

Together, and with support from the Embassies of Colombia and Spain to the UK, we went on to organise and host ‘Lacquer in the Americas’ at the V&A, the very first bi-lingual international conference on this topic, on 13 – 14 April 2023.

The speakers at the conference, with one Giovany Montes at a lectern
Left The conference speakers. Right Giovany Montes presenting © Victoria and Albert Museum 

V&A Director Tristram Hunt opened the proceedings, welcoming a multidisciplinary group of international experts and an equally broad audience both in-person and online. What made the conference truly special was its inclusivity and outreach scope: speakers gave their paper either in English or Spanish, and we had a team of professional interpreters who provided simultaneous interpretation to everyone there in person and online.

The recordings of the conference are now available.  Please see the links below arranged by date and by language: Spanish, English, or in both (without translation).

Jump into the recordings, learn about the fascinating world of mopa mopa and barniz de Pasto, Mexican lacquer and cumatê and witness the demonstrations of two barniz de Pasto maestros, Eduardo Muñoz and Gilberto Granja, bringing American lacquer to life in front of your very eyes!


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Day 1

Translations – English / Spanish

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Day 2

Translations – English / Spanish

Speakers – day 1

  • R. Newman, E. Kaplan, M. C. Alvarez (English)
  • The story of Elaeagia resin (mopa mopa) so far – La historia de la resina Elaeagia (mopa mopa) hasta ahora
  • M. Codding (English)
  • The Lacquer Arts of Viceregal America – Las artes de la laca de los virreinatos de la Nueva España y el Perú
  • Y. Kawamura (Spanish)
  • El arte de barniz de Pasto y las posibles influencias de Asia – The art of barniz de Pasto and the possible influences from Asia
  • M. del Pilar López Pérez De Bejarano (Spanish)
  • Reflexiones sobre las imágenes, su forma y disposición en las superficies, en el arte del barniz de Pasto, siglos XVI al XIX – Reflections on the images, their form and arrangement on the surfaces, in the varnish art of Pasto, XVI to XIX centuries
  • T. Apráez (Spanish)
  • Aplicación de la técnica Prehispánica de Barniz de Pasto en joyería contemporánea –Application of the Pre-Hispanic barniz de Pasto technique in contemporary jewellery
  • L. Burgio, D. Melchar, N. Humphrey, L. N. Melita, V. Risdonne (English)
  • Barniz de Pasto and Mexican lacquer objects from the Victoria and Albert Museum collection in London – Barniz de Pasto y objetos de laca mexicana en las colecciones del Victoria and Albert Museum de Londres
  • M. C. Álvarez-White, M. O. Fernández, D. Cohen (Spanish)
  • El empleo de la hojilla de plata en el barniz de Pasto – The use of silver leaf in barniz de Pasto
  • S. I. Ocaña Ruiz (Spanish)
  • Biombos novohispanos de maque del siglo XVIII – Mexican Colonial 18th century lacquer biombos
  • F. Pozzi, E. Basso, R. Radpour, A. McGeachy, M. Katz (English)
  • Unlocking the secrets of barniz de Pasto: a scientific study on objects from the Hispanic Society Museum & Library – Desvelando los secretos de barniz de Pasto: un estudio científico sobre objetos de la Hispanic Society Museum & Library
  • Gilberto and Oscar Granja – demonstration of barniz de Pasto techniques

Speakers – day 2

  • R. Romero Asenjo, A. Illán Gutiérrez, C. Bondía Fernández (Spanish)
  • Un análisis técnico sobre tres objetos de laca mexicana fechados entre el siglo XVI y XIX – Three New Spain lacquerware objects dated from 16th to 19th centuries: a technical and analytical path
  • J. Arslanoglu, J. L. Lazarte, A. Popowich, R. Kasl, M. Katz, C. Tokarski (English)
  • The identification of chia oil used as an artistic material in New Spain – La identificación del aceite de chía utilizado como un material artístico en la Nueva España
  • R. M. de Almeida Martins (Spanish)
  • Lacas de la Amazonía: Cuias, Cumatê y Colores por mujeres indígenas en el Grão-Pará – Lacquers from the Amazon – Cuias, Cumatê and Colours by indigenous women in Grão-Pará
  • Y. Kawamura, A. García Barrios (Spanish)
  • Influencia de la laca japonesa Namban en Nueva España: foco puesto en el mueble enconchado – Influence of Japanese Namban lacquer in New Spain: focused on the enconchado furniture
  • G. P. Arteaga Montes (Spanish)
  • Un viaje entre las nubes: las cinco familias de recolectores de mopa-mopa en Mocoa, Putumayo, Colombia – A journey through the clouds: the five families of mopa-mopa harvesters in Mocoa, Putumayo, Colombia
  • M. M. Figueroa Fernandez (Spanish)
  • Mujeres de mopa-mopa: vicisitudes de la magia – Women of mopa-mopa: vicissitudes of magic
  • A. Zabia, R. Bruquetas (Spanish)
  • Nuevas aportaciones sobre la colección de barniz de Pasto del Museo de América de Madrid – New contributions on the barniz de Pasto collection of the Museo de América in Madrid
  • A. Ancho Villanueva (Spanish)
  • Arquetas de barniz de Pasto en la catedral de Pamplona, España – Barniz de Pasto chests in the collection of Pamplona Cathedral, Spain
  • E. Schmueker, M. Wheeler, M. Sanchez Carvajal (English)
  • Discovering our global connections: the identification and investigation of a barniz de Pasto casket from Bateman’s, National Trust – Descubriendo nuestras conexiones globales: la identificación y investigación de una arqueta de barniz de Pasto de Bateman’s, National Trust.
  • E. Kaplan, R. Newman, T. Cummins, S. Hornbeck (English)
  • The Field Museum Inka tiana: materiality and meaning – La tiana Inka del Field Museum: materialidad y significado
  • Eduardo and Juan Muñoz – demonstration of barniz de Pasto techniques

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