Incredibly intricate hand painted designs distinguish this bandeja redonda (round tray) from Olinalá in the Mexican State of Guerrero. The techniques for this lacquerware are passed down through generations there; this gorgeous wooden tray was painted using the applicado (applique) method, where the designs are painted over a base coat (in this case black). It's a labor-intensive process that can involve up to 30 different steps and take many days of work. The tray was given a clear coat of varnish to protect the artwork; only chia oil or linseed oil is used. The final step is to burnish the surface to a high shine.
Olinalá is considered the most important center for the production of lacquered ware in Mexico. After the Mexican Revolution, the market for lacquerware from Guerrero had almost disappeared until the 1970s, when writer Carlos Espejel, author of books on Mexican folk art, began to promote it, especially the work of Olinalá. The best pieces are sold in expensive shops in Mexico City (note the original paper price tag of $460.00 on the back of the tray) as well as in galleries in the U.S. The pieces are rarely signed; most are made by artisan families, where each member does a different part of the process.
Dating from the 1980's, prior to the decorations becoming spaced out with bright colors, this tray has a multitude of traditional Mexican symbols and designs. Seven panels in the well of the tray showcase various birds (don't miss the owl), cats and deer surrounded by leafy, swirling vines on tiny stipples of blue. The rim is encircled with vines and fish, while the two pie-shaped black areas at the top center each have a blue-outlined butterfly. The black trim around the center is decorated with an embossed meander pattern. The fine details, done with a small brush with few hairs, are so complex and beautiful.
The tray measures 14 inches across, is 1/4 inch thick and weighs about 1 1/4 pounds. In our photos, the yellow outlines around the designs appear much brighter; they're more subdued in person. It's in excellent condition, with no chips, cracks or paint wear. This is top-quality Olinalá lacquerware at its best.