A Cloisonné Worker

A Cloisonné Worker by Mortimer Menpes. 1901. Watercolor. Source: Japan: A Record in Colour, facing p. 180. Finding the right craftsman for this kind of work was particularly challenging for Menpes; but he had a stroke of luck:

I hit upon a man who had just discovered an entirely new method of handling gold. Coming across one of his samples at an exhibition in Tokio, I ferreted him out and persuaded him to engage for me. His cloisonné, unlike the ordinary slate-grey work that one must needs peer closely into before discovering its fine qualities, was bold in design, with flower patterns of cherry-blossom just traceable through a fine lacework of gold, and it looked like a brilliant rainbow-hued bubble. One is much inclined to fancy that cloisonné vases with elaborate designs must necessarily be expensive. That, however, is not the case. There are technical obstacles connected with making broad sweeps of colour in cloisonné that render simple designs much more expensive. [179-80]

As with other crafts, Menpes feels that Japan "is the only place in the world that is capable of producing cloisonné, for the patience and skill required would overtax the workers of any other country, and such an attempt would necessarily end in failure" (180). However, in this instance, as in a few others, he is not cheered by watching the craftsmen at their work: "A cloisonné shop is every bit as depressing as the embroidery works. You will see men picking up on the end of their tiny instruments gold wire, which is so microscopic as to be like a grain of dust, and almost as invisible. This tiny morsel has to be placed on the metal vase and fixed there" (180). He goes on to compare the skills involved with those used in dentistry — not a very comfortable comparison! — Jacqueline Banerjee

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Menpes, Dorothy. Japan: A Record in Colour. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1901. Internet Archive version of a copy in the University of California Libraries. Web. 5 July 2019.

Created 6 July 2019