Two 300-year-old carvings are featured in Kathy Matta’s gallery in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Two 300-year-old carvings are featured in Kathy Matta’s gallery in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The allure of lacquer

Local gallery showcases art made with traditional Chinese medium

An Alaskan take on a very old and traditional Chinese art medium is being showcased in a small gallery in Soldotna.

Kathy Matta said she learned to create art with bodiless lacquer when she lived in China for 26 years. She’s been working with the material for more than 20 years.

This summer, she’s been showcasing that work in a gallery across from The Catch in Soldotna.

In China, raw lacquer was extracted from trees, looking and feeling not unlike sap.

“It’s actually considered one of the treasures in southern China,” she said. The walls of her gallery are adorned with the work, both in the form of paintings and also large salmon sculptures.

“The fish bodies are made out of lacquer, they’re layered and layered, then they’re set to cure for a couple of months,” she said. This process creates just the canvas that Matta uses, “then different lacquers and eggshell are applied layer upon layer. It’s very rough in texture; then it’s hand polished out.”

The result is a distinct and eye-catching sculpture of a salmon. Many examples hang on the gallery walls, largely the same shape, but each has a different design. One has swirling colors down its side, another has leaves that look as if they’ve fallen in water.

Alongside her art, Matta also features some very old Chinese carvings and pottery.

The carvings are 300-year-old lacquer pieces that formerly adorned the end of beams or corners in a home. Matta said she acquired them from a friend while she was living in China, and recently finished restoring them.

Some of the small lacquered pottery pieces are up to a thousand years old, Matta said.

“I like people to come in and talk, and learn something about this,” Matta said. She said most of the pieces for sale in the gallery are pricey, and some folks walk in, see the tags and walk right out. “Come, check it out, let me tell you something about it.” She’s eager to show off the art and discuss the work.

Matta sells and exhibits her artwork at the gallery from roughly noon to four. Sometimes her husband will open the exhibit for a while later in the afternoon, but there aren’t set hours.

According to Matta, they were staying open longer during the earlier parts of the summer because tourists were keeping things busier, but “it’s kind of dying down.”

The gallery will remain open through September, but Matta said there isn’t enough traffic to remain in the space during the winter months.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

A lacquer sculpture of a salmon hangs on the walls of Kathy Matta’s gallery in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

A lacquer sculpture of a salmon hangs on the walls of Kathy Matta’s gallery in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Art hangs on the walls of Kathy Matta’s gallery in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Art hangs on the walls of Kathy Matta’s gallery in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Art hangs on the walls and is otherwise displayed at Kathy Matta’s gallery in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Art hangs on the walls and is otherwise displayed at Kathy Matta’s gallery in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Art hangs on the walls and is otherwise displayed at Kathy Matta’s gallery in Soldotna, Alaska on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Art hangs on the walls and is otherwise displayed at Kathy Matta’s gallery in Soldotna, Alaska on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

A lacquer sculpture of a salmon hangs on the walls of Kathy Matta’s gallery in Soldotna, Alaska on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

A lacquer sculpture of a salmon hangs on the walls of Kathy Matta’s gallery in Soldotna, Alaska on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

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