Sunday, October 05, 2008

Shanghai Arts and Craft

Although this blog is for a contemporary Chinese art class, I would like to digress a bit and talk about traditional Chinese arts and craft. Today I went on a quest to find a little studio called Art Scene China located in the French Concession. I found the building but unfortunately, the studio had disappeared. Luckily for me, I had my trusty tourist book handed out to us by our study abroad program. I discovered that the Shanghai Arts and Craft Research Institute was closeby and decided to head on over there. The institute is located on 79 Fenyang Road and housed in a beautiful late French Renaissance style building. The rooms in the building were large and airy and each was dedicated to a type of Chinese arts or craft. I entered through the second floor which housed the ivory, wood, bamboo, and inlaid lacquerware carvings. The carvings were amazingly detailed and I wondered how the artisans could create something like them. My favorite was an ivory carving titled "Goddess Strewing Flowers Down from Heaven." The artist was not metioned. The carving was of a Chinese goddess standing on a cloud above a mountian village strewing flower petals. The plaque by the carving said it was unique because it combined two elements in traditional Chinese art that are not usually placed together, people and a mountain and water landscape. As I continued along the second floor, I came upon a workshop were the artisans actually made their work. There, I found out that modern day artisans don't carve their pieces with a chisel or a knife but instead use a sewing machine like carving machine. There is a tiny chisel attached to it that cuts the medium when the machine is turned on. Once I finished touring the second floor, I went up to the third floor. The first thing I see was a huge framed painting of a rainy woods scene. I thought it was an oil painting until I took a closer look and saw that it was actually an embroidery. If I hadn't taken that second closer look, I would not have realized that. On the third floor were rooms dedicated to Gu embroidery, theatrical costumes, stone carving, woolen knitting, woolen needlepoint embroidery, and dough modeling. Gu embroidery looks very similar to traditional Chinese painting but instead of using a brush to create the images, the artist uses silk threads. In the costumes room were examples of traditional Beijing opera costumes as well as clothing that the imperial court wore. My favorite of the third floor arts and crafts selection was the dough modeling room. Basically, the artist takes some clay dough and creates tiny figurines then paints them. The figurines on display were exceedingly detailed and fine. However, unlike the carvings workshop on the second floor, I did not see any machinery in the dough modeling room. I think I can safely assume that all the figurines were hand-made. Finally, I went down to the first floor to see paper cutting, colored lanterns, and antique painting. I find it truly astounding how a paper cutting artist can create something so elaborate with just a pair of scissors and a piece of paper. For myself, I can barely cut in a straight line unless it is drawn on the paper but these artists don't even need to draw their designs on the paper. The colored lanterns were also unbelievably ornate. There was a dragon and phoenix latern designed by Lu Xie-Zhuang that was covered in a gold like material. I thought the most interesting of the arts and crafts shown here was the antique painting, especially the inside painting. Normally artists paint on the outside of a vase or a glass piece but with inside painting they actually paint the inside. The piece ends up looking like a snow globe except without the water and the glitter. Most if not all of these arts and crafts were made right in the building workshops. Unfortunately, either because today is Sunday or people were still away for the National Day holiday, there weren't many artists there so I could not see them actually creating new pieces. Also, most of the pieces are on sale but you can't afford them unless your pockets are very deep. Overall I thought it was a great place to visit, especially since there were no other visitors while I was there. The entrance fee is 8 yuan.

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