Mātale work is a very distinctive form of Sinhalese lacquer work, primarily associated with the village of Hapuvida, South Mātale, in former Kandy.
It is also referred to as Niyapoṭen vēda (නියපොටෙන් වේද) or "finger-nail work" because of the use of nails to cut the applied strips of lacquer.1
Classic Mātale work on a fine Sinhalese patisthānaya from the King's Four Workshops.
Sold by Mandarin Mansion in 2019.
Sinhalese lacquer workers were called ī-vaḍuvō, literally "arrow-makers" who were involved in both the turning of wooden objects and lacquering them.
At any time, two of them would be working in the armory of the king's "Four Workshops". They would produce mainly bows and polearm shafts.2
The object to be decorated would first be covered with a base color, usually vermillion red. In the case of a staff, it would be turned fast and the lacquer applied with a talipot leaf, the friction heating the lacquer and applying it.
The elaborate decorative work would be done by warming a lump of lacquer and drawing it out. The craftsman would typically wind the string around his knee a couple of times for it to cool. The staff would now be warmed gently, continuously turned by an assistant, usually a small boy. The narrow band of lacquer would then be applied to the staff by pressure, and the pattern created as the staff revolved. The end would be nipped off with the nail of thumb or finger. As a consequence, lines have straight ends and all "dots" in this kind of work are angular in shape. After completion of the motif, the staff is then warmed again and smoothed with the leaf. 3
Article: Sinhalese lacquer work
1. See Ananda Coomaraswamy; Mediæval Sinhalese art, Broad Campden Essex House Press, 1908. Pages 215 - 217.
2. For the entire process, see: Ibid. Page 216.