Also parts of this costume have dark sections on the mask and shapes made from urushi, a sap, of Rhus verniciflua, a member of the sumac family, which includes poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. It grows as a tree in Asia, and is still used primarily in Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam, and Burma. It is a very painstaking process to remove the sap from the trees, drop by drop. One can buy it already extracted from the trees. You can actually break off the leaves of poison oak in the springtime and a white sap will emerge that later turns dark brown or black. It contains the same substance as urushi. As a child I found lots in Steep Ravine where we used to go on weekends and I often came home with serious cases of poison oak. Anyway in my later years to provoke my immune system, I ended up working with the same family of substances. Since it is alive it is like having a respectable companion with your work,. Most artists react to it spiritually, feeling it as a link to the other world. It does not just dry as shellac does in the West, but rush cures and hardens, forming a lustrous, impregnable surface. It hardens the best in damp, warm, humid atmospheres. A shell, or core, is formed over a mold made with alternating layers of lacquer, clay, and layers of hemp cloth. Sometimes washi paper or leather is also used. The shell, or core, is given multiple coats of lacquer mixed with pulverized clay, stone, pumice, and diatomaceous earth, then finished with black lacquer, or red lacquer, and polished in successive layers with charcoal. Or it is coated in successive layers in a plaster mold and submersed in water to release. My technique is simpler-- each piece involves 15 layers of lacquer and hemp components, although it should involve up to 50.

´┐╝Contemporary artists in Asia use urushi in many ways as a binder, painting medium and hardener. It is soft and natural and never becomes brittle as plastics do. It is a mysterious medium of rich depth. In its raw uncured state, it can cause extreme reactions to the skin, to which practitioners of the art form develop immunity after working with it for sometime. It is also a healing sap in China, taken orally. The tree and its family of shrubs grow in areas of land that have been disturbed. It is a healing plant and restores the ecosystem to its original state. This is all a part of its profound lure and paradoxical bond to its artists. It is extremely durable and impervious to water and heat.
To harvest it, in June through September, a little incision, so as not to shock the tree, is put into the side of the tree and the sap comes out. Four days later another incision is made little longer, and so on every four days so as not to hurt the tree but only to make it produce more say. Specialists do this. Over a hundred days one can get ten pounds of rush (but you need it be in Asia to find it, except our local supply of poison oak.). The tree dies in the end but new saplings spring from it.
Anyway working with it is like literally working with a living material, a life force that the artist respects. The circulation of his own blood and the life force of this adhesive inspire creation of wonderful new artwork of which the spiritual element is prevalent. Please click below a recent exhibit that we are hoping to tour in the US. with Sha Sha offering a performance to complement the exhibit.

Link to Sha Sha's mailing list
copyright 2017 Sha Sha Higby
Other Links
Other Links
New Vibrance in International Women's Urushi Art
It is with great pleasure that I present to you the catalogue of the Resonant Uruwashi Exhibition.In this important and memorable event, brilliant works by 31 women urushi artists from eight countries were exhibited in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Fukushima, Japan in 2012.

Urushi is no longer only a Japanese or Asian art form. There are also excellent urushi artists at work in Europe and America. For the first time in a major exhibition, contemporary urushi art from around the world were showcased together. The full breadth and scope of modern urushi art was on display for all to enjoy.

Please open this catalogue and also enjoy these beautiful works. We would like to present this exhibition in America.


Arts and crafts critic/ Arts and crafts historian
New Vibrance in International Women's Urushi Art