Your Guide to Handcrafted Mirrors

Like Narcissus of Greek mythology, most of us enjoy seeing our reflection, and mirrors of polished metal can be found in Greek art from 6,000 years ago. The silvery-backed glass mirrors we use today were developed in Germany in 1835 by Justus von Liebig, a chemist. Today, mirrors are everywhere — on walls, on the make-up table and even in our handbags. They are popular in interior decor, as they reflect light, brightening an interior, and they can even make a space seem larger. Some of the most interesting mirrors are artisan crafted for a truly unique look.

What kinds of mirrors can be handcrafted?

Wall mirrors and hand mirrors are perfect for artisans, as are tabletop mirrors. In fact, any mirror with a frame invites an infinity of creative designs and techniques.

What materials are popular for handcrafted mirrors?

As with most handicrafts, the materials at hand are the ones most often used. Woods of all kinds — with sleek surfaces to show off the grain, or carved by hand, or embellished with applications. Glass panes, gilt, natural fibers or fabrics are also perfect for mirrors, as are tooled leather or metal repousse, ceramic tiles, stone, resin or papier mache. Artisans the world over discover unique materials to craft innovative and attractive mirrors.

What are some kinds of handcrafted mirrors from different regions of the world?

A classic Mexican folk art is embossed tin, and this is often employed in mirror frames. In Thailand, the lavish lai rot nam technique — ornate gilded motifs on smooth black lacquer — has been used for more than 400 years. Balinese woodcarvers use their legendary skills to handcraft mirrors whose frames often depict the island’s exuberant flora and fauna.

The technique of reverse-painted glass is believed to have originated around 4 AD in Egypt, and arrived in Italy by the 13th century. In the 16th century, Italian and Spanish artisans were migrating to Peru, bringing the technique with them. Motifs are painted by hand on the reverse side of glass panes. These are inlaid into a wooden frame, achieving a wonderful clarity of colors.

In addition, beautiful Peruvian baroque wall mirrors are handcrafted in the Andes. They are carved by hand and covered with aluminum or bronze leaf before they receive an aged patina. See how they’re made here.

‘Colonial Glam’ reverse-painted glass mirror

What are the most popular motifs in handcrafted mirrors?

Flower motifs are popular almost everywhere. Balinese mirrors often depict the fragrant plumeria flower that thrives there. West Africa’s handcrafted mirrors may feature sheets of aluminum and brass repousse, or some of the region’s more than 500 traditional adinkra symbols. These are visual icons that convey conventional wisdom or proverbs.

For their handcrafted mirrors, Brazilian artisans enjoy working with glass mosaic, inspired perhaps by the iconic beach walk at Ipanema. India’s intricate embossed brass mirror frames evoke the splendor of Mughal palaces. Central America’s hand-carved mirrors recall colonial elegance. And some of their newer handcrafted mirrors include Guatemala’s famous worry dolls. Legend tells how the Maya sun god gave Princess Ixmucané the gift of solving people’s problems. People started making dolls in Ixmucané’s honor and telling her their problems. Then they place the doll under their pillow, hoping she will find a solution during the night.

Are any of your hand mirrors eco-friendly?

Yes! At Novica, we’re passionate about protecting our planet, and we understand the importance of eco-friendly items. Andean artisan Luciana Sandovol prides herself on recycling discarded materials like cardboard, natural dyes, paper, and paints to use for her papier mache creations. Central America has also started introducing recycled natural fibers into their mirror-crafting. India utilizes mango wood, a fast-growing, dense, eco-friendly wood that is native to Southeast Asia, and harvested only after its fertile, fruit-bearing years.

How do I know if my mirror is handmade?

There are a few simple ways to tell if your mirror is handmade. If you look closely, you’ll notice unique lines, markings, or painted stylized details that indicate that it is a one-of-a-kind piece. Mirrors made of wood typically display distinctive and intricate engraving, while painted mirrors often reveal unique brushstrokes, colors, and designs. Shapes and sizes of a particular motif may vary slightly, as no two handcrafted mirrors are exactly identical. This makes them all the more special.

Would any of your wall mirrors work as bathroom mirrors?

Absolutely! Depending on the styles that suit your design needs, our mirrors are versatile, fun, and can be placed in a variety of spaces. You might even want two mirrors on perpendicular walls for greater perspective. Handcrafted mirrors show a natural diversity and uniqueness, so there is truly something for everyone.

How do I care for my handcrafted mirror?

Different types of mirrors require different cleaning techniques. Gilded mirrors, for example — especially vintage pieces — may oxidize with the use of cleaning products or water, so it is best to simply and lightly dust their frame with a clean, soft cloth or brush. Most other styles have a frame that can be cleaned with a paper towel or soft, damp cloth. Glass and mirror cleaner is okay for the mirror itself, but we recommend spraying it onto the cloth first and not directly onto the mirror, as dripping chemicals stuck in the frame may cause damage over time. Be sure to dry the mirror when you are finished cleaning by wiping away any leftover moisture or cleaners.

A well-ventilated area assists in keeping the mirror dry, and we recommend hanging your mirror in an area where it can be admired without the risk of nicks, wall leaks, or other issues.

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