Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bronze - Ancient And Modern Alloy

Bronze is an alloy that goes back at least to the 4th millennium B.C. Bronze artifacts have been found in what is now known as Iran and Iraq. It was one of the most innovative and important alloys ever created by humans.

It is much harder than pure copper or stone, and for this reason bronze was used to make many different kind of tools, weapons, other kinds of implements, armor, decorative tiles and statues.

Bronze was used to make cannons because it causes very little friction in metal to metal applications. Iron cannon balls could be used in a bronze cannon without any fear of the ball sticking in the barrel. The relatively low melting point of the alloy and its malleability made it the most used type of metal for centuries. So many things were made from it that a period of human history is known as The Bronze Age.

The two main metals that comprise bronze are copper and tin. As these two metals are not commonly found in the same areas, historians think that when the alloy became more widely known and in demand, that this led to increased trade in the ancient world. Most bronze is 88 percent copper and 12 percent tin.

Bronze is still used to make many items today. As it does not generate sparks when struck against a hard surface, it is used to make mallets, hammers, wrenches and other tools used in high explosive areas and areas with flammable vapors. It is also used for springs and all types of bearings, especially bearings for use in small electric motors.

One of the most common uses of the alloy in ancient and modern times is the casting of statues. Highly detailed molds can be used because bronze has some unique characteristics. It expands slightly before it completely sets, thus filling all the finely detailed areas of a mold. Bronze also shrinks slightly when it is completely set, thus making it very easy to remove from molds.

The progression of human learning has created many new things to replace the old. While bronze is not so extensively used as it was in ancient times, there is no modern replacement for it. It is still the best material for certain uses. It is truly an ancient and modern alloy.

Chinese Art and Its Hidden Meanings

Whether it is a painting, wall scroll, hand fan, porcelain or other object, Chinese art can be enjoyed for its unexplainable qualities that make it pleasing to the eye. But the subjects of Chinese art also have ancient meanings. Three Chinese have long taken these meanings into consideration when giving or receiving gifts. Here are a few objects used as subjects in Chinese art, and their meanings:
  • Bats - Bats in western culture most always are thought of in a negative sense. But in China, the bat is a sign of good luck. Two bats are even better - double good luck. The depiction of five bats represents the five blessings of wealth, health, virtue, a long life and a natural death.
  • Carp - In ancient China, Carp represented endurance, perseverance and fortitude. Fish in general were a symbol of happiness, for a fish is always happy in its own environment.
  • Cranes - The crane represents longevity. A pair of cranes represents longevity in a relationship as cranes mate for life.
  • Dragons - Like the bat, dragons in western culture are thought of as bad creatures, while in China they represent positive attributes. The dragon can represent many things. Good fortune, energy, power, and success.
  • Bamboo - The attributes of bamboo are taken from the way it grows in nature. Bamboo is a plant that is delicate yet strong. It bends in the strongest of winds, but seldom breaks. Its delicate leaves over slender stems represent the combination of vitality and durability.
  • Peony - Most Chinese flowers are associated with love and female beauty. The peony is also known as the 'flower of wealth and honor' in China.
  • Lotus - A sacred symbol of Buddhism, the lotus rises out of the muddy river and lake bed into a representation of purity and perfection.
  • Pine Tree - Holds it greenery year-round thus represents longevity and endurance. It is also a hardy tree, and represents ongoing life in the face of adversity.
  • Tiger - Bravery, courage and strength.
  • Duck - A symbol of married bliss. A pair of ducks also brings longevity to the marriage. Most birds that are represented in pairs have the attribute of longevity for a relationship.
  • Peach - The fruit of a long and healthy life.

Lost Wax Casting of Bronze

The traditional process used to cast bronze, developed and used 4,000 years ago, is called lost wax casting. This method results in highly detailed, quality castings and has changed very little over the centuries. The method was used by craftsmen and artists from every culture from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt up to today.

This process begins with the object that is to be cast. An artist creates a sculpture from clay or wax as these substances remain soft. These sculptures can be very intricate and finely detailed. A mold is then made of the sculpture, usually in two pieces, sometimes more when a sculpture is very large. Plaster is used on small pieces, but fiberglass is also used, especially for larger sculptures. After the molding material has been applied and it has dried thoroughly, the mold is then opened and the original sculpture is removed. Usually the original is destroyed in this process, as the molding material is very rigid. That is why the original sculpture is made of a soft material so that it can be removed from the mold.

After all of the original sculpture has been removed and the mold cleaned, a thin coating of wax is brushed onto the inside of the mold. This is done to capture every intricate detail of the mold. The mold is then put together, and wax is poured in the mold while it is being slowly rotated. After a layer of wax at least three quarters of an inch forms on the inside of the mold, the rest of the wax is dumped out. When the wax has thoroughly hardened, the mold is removed. The wax cast is then worked on by artisans to ensure that it is as perfect as possible.

The wax casts are then dipped into a mixture of plaster and sand. This is repeated many times. Each dipping has to dry thoroughly before the next. With each successive dip, the sand and plaster mixture gets more coarse. This results in a very strong shell being built up over the wax cast. After these shells have hardened, vents and 'runners' are added to allow the molten bronze to enter the shell, and for gases and excess metal to escape. The shells are then placed into a kiln and baked at very high temperatures. This heat causes the wax inside of the shell to melt away, leaving an exact image of the sculpture in the shell. This gives the process its name of 'lost wax casting'. After baking, the shell is now a mold ready for molten bronze.

Once the bronze has been poured and has cooled, the shell is then carefully chipped away, leaving a cast of the original sculpture in bronze. Any flaws are removed, the sculpture can be buffed and left its natural bronze color, or painted. This process is very labor intensive and expensive, but it results in such fine quality castings that it is still used after 4000 years.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jade - Stronger Than Steel

Some facts and folklore about Jade:
  • What is commonly referred to as Jade is actually two different stones, Nephrite and Jadeite. The difference between the two is in minor chemical composition. Both stones are so similar that only gemologists and mineralogists usually differentiate between them.
  • Pure Jade is white in color. Minor impurities create the familiar green but also the colors yellow, pink, red, violet, orange, brown and blue-green.
  • Although the stone is mostly used for jewelry and decorative items today, in ancient times the toughness and hardness of it made it useful for making tools and weapons. While diamonds and rubies are harder, they are more brittle than Jade. Some say that high quality Jade is harder and tougher than steel.
  • The stone was found in the mountains and river beds of ancient China, and was called The Stone of Heaven. Archaeologists have found objects made of Jade that date back to 5,000 B.C.E. It symbolized the noble bearing of a gentlemen, and served as a talisman for protection. The stone was a treasured gift, and the ancient Chinese also thought of it as a link between the physical and the spiritual world. Ancient Chinese Emperors would use Jade disks in rituals to speak to the gods.
  • The stone was not only used in ancient China for tools and weapons, but in Europe as well. As other materials were developed for tool and weapon making, Jade fell out of use in ancient Europe and was abandoned. Other materials for tools and weapons were also found in China, but the Chinese did not abandon the stone. They used it to make objects for ornamental and ritualistic purposes.
  • The working of Jade was already highly developed during the Shang Dynasty in China, 1751 B.C.E. - 1111 B.C.E.
  • Jade is currently found and mined in the following locations: The mountains of western China, Poland, Burma, The Alps in Italy, India, Switzerland, Alaska, and Russia.
  • One school of thought concerning the origin of the word Jade says that when the Spanish Conquistadors came to South America they saw the stone being worn on the loincloths of the natives, and called it piedra de hijada, which means the stone of the loin, but there is much conjecture about this word origin.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Chinese Dragon Tortoise

Dragons and tortoises are two of the most powerful symbols in Chinese mythology. The Dragon itself stands for many things. Wealth, fertility, positive energy and immortality are but a few of the symbolic meanings. The Dragon is a positive influence, most often a benevolent creature in Chinese mythology, unlike the fire-breathing evil dragons as portrayed in Western mythology.

The tortoise represents longevity, of steadfast effort, of deliberate action that inevitably leads to success. The combination of the Dragon and Tortoise combines the qualities of both animals into a potent symbol of success and longevity.

The Dragon tortoise is portrayed with the head of a dragon and the body of a tortoise. There is usually a small turtle on the back of the tortoise shell, and the dragon tortoise is standing on a pile of coins and precious metal ingots. There is very often a coin in the dragon's mouth.

This symbol is used in Feng Shui for decorating homes and offices. Because of the incredible energy this symbol represents, it is recommended that it not be placed in any room of rest, such as a bedroom. Have the painting or figurine of the dragon tortoise hanging on or near the east wall of the room it is used in. Any area that is used as an office is a good place for a dragon tortoise. Also any area that creative work or research is done is a good place for one.

Whether represented in a painting, or a figurine of wood, metal, crystal or stone, the Dragon Tortoise symbolizes good fortune and longevity.

Quan Yin - Total Compassion and Loving Kindness

Quan Yin is the Chinese translation for the Indian Sanskrit name of Avalokiteshvara, one of the four great Bodhisattvas (true enlightened ones) of Buddhism. The original Sanskrit name means "He who looks upon the world with compassion". The Chinese name means "One who hears the cries of the world".
In India, Avalokiteshvara is portrayed as being male. Some statues to him have many heads, many arms and hands with an eye in each palm. This represents his ability to hear and see anyone that needs help, and his ability with his many hands to help.

Since the Tang Dynasty in China (618-907 AD), Quan Yin is most often portrayed as female, perhaps because compassion and loving kindness are traditionally feminine traits in China. She is represented in many different ways. Sometimes pouring a stream of water from a vase, representing the healing power of loving kindness that she gives to all. Other times holding a sheaf of wheat or rice, representing fertility. Very often she is accompanied by dragons, an ancient symbol of spirituality, wisdom and virtue. She has also been portrayed with an infant in her arms or on her lap. As in India, she is also portrayed on occasion with many arms, hands and heads.

Quan Yin is but one way to spell her name. She is also known as Kuan Yin, Guan Yin, Kannon, and many others. While the names are varied, the compassion and loving kindness she represents is common to all Buddhist philosophies. In Buddhist tradition, Quan Yin vowed to stay in the earthly realms to help everyone, until they have all completed their cycle of birth-death-rebirth, and found enlightenment. It is why she is also beloved as a mother figure, for she has decided to stay in the earthly realms to help as a mother would with her children. Her role has been compared to that of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus.

Folk beliefs in some areas of China believe that she has her own sacred place, a mountain called Putuo Mountain, in Zhejaing province. There are many legends of her that tell of the miracles she performs, miracles that convey the idea of a truly enlightened being that consists of an all inclusive, unwavering compassion and loving kindness given freely to everyone. She hears the cries of everyone and can appear in any form whenever and wherever a being needs help.

The meditations to Quan Yin by Buddhists are simple. A focus on treating everything with loving kindness, of being compassionate and helping all that are in need, are the Quin Yin truths. To meditate on the positive attributes of compassion for all, treating all with genuine loving kindness, can transform anyone into it, and bring more peace into the world.

Tibetan Singing Bowls - Centuries of Resonance

Although they are commonly referred to as bowls, they are technically a standing bell. They are not hung upside down or put on a handle, but stand alone on the bottom side. By tapping with a wooden mallet, or rubbing the rim with a leather covered piece of wood, a Tibetan singing bowl can be made to sound. They have been used for centuries by Buddhists and others as an aid to meditation, health care, relaxation and certain religious practices. They are also more correctly known as Himalayan Singing Bowls, for their traditional ranges of occurrence are Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia, India, China, Tibet, and Afghanistan.

Although they are associated Buddhism, they date before Buddhism. Some scholars believe their beginnings were in India. A Buddhist master traveled to Tibet and introduced Buddhism and the bowls to that region in the 9th century A.D. Ancient bowls were made from a combination of precious and semi-precious metals and stones. From 3 to 12 different ingredients, including pieces of meteorites, were used to make the ancient bowls. They were hammered by hand into shape. The ancient metallurgy and hammering techniques to make these bowls is now considered a lost art.

Because of all the different ingredients in the alloy, ancient bowls have a much richer, more complex sound than Tibetan singing bowls made today. Ancient singing bowls are still available, but they can be quite expensive. Most singing bowls available are modern creations, and are not made from the exotic alloys of ancient bowls. They are usually made from a combination of bronze, zinc and iron. They are usually not hand hammered, but are cast. Modern singing bowls are made in Nepal, Tibet, Japan, Korea and India.

If you have ever rubbed a wet finger around the rim of a wine glass, or gently tapped the side of it with a finger, the sounds you heard are vaguely similar as sounds from a singing bowl. The wine glass vibrates in the air, and emits sounds. So does the Tibetan singing bowl, but the sound itself is different. Research has been done that suggests that the sounds coming from these bowls, especially the ancient ones, resonate with certain brainwaves and can help calm the mind and relax the body. The sounds of Tibetan singing bowls resonate with people today as they did with people of centuries past. The music they make is the sound of meditation, calm mind, and relaxed body.

Feng Shui - What Is It?

There has been a long history of interest in the west about things oriental. Religion, philosophy, culture and art. Feng shui is also one of these interests, but what exactly is it? In Chinese feng means wind and shui means water. So the literal meaning is wind and water, two naturally occurring forces that have been dealt with in Chinese culture, art and philosophy for thousands of years. These two forces can create good health and well being with clean water, clear air, good harvests and prosperity. But they can also cause destruction, death and disease with high winds and flooding waters, for example. This is all related to the ancient principle of opposites called Yin and Yang. The good and the bad, light and darkness, good and evil, etc.

Very simply put, Feng shui is concerned with humans and nature, and how to best live in harmony within our environments. It all relates to the notion that if we as humans learn to live in balance with nature, we will be happy and prosper. The modern concern for ecology in a way is part of those ideas, as people are learning that what is good for the environment and the earth is also good for humans.

Basic Feng shui equates our surroundings with not only our physical well being, but our mental and spiritual well being as well. They are all connected, and to neglect one is to be out of balance with the others, which does not lead to happiness and prosperity. We can well imagine the frame of mind and our emotional state if we were to be surrounded by a room with no windows and barren walls. Or an environment of death and destruction, or ugliness and hate. These environments would affect us, throw our emotional and spiritual well being out of balance and eventually affect our physical well being. We will become corrupt in body and spirit, which would lead to our environment becoming even more corrupt, and the circle of imbalance continues. But if we balance our environments with things of beauty, music, windows that open to let the fresh air in, sometimes the simplest of things, it is possible to reverse the negative environments to positive and break the circle of imbalance, and lead lives of happiness and prosperity.

Feng shui is often portrayed as something complex, something that only a master of immense training and even psychic abilities can practice. Feng shui, as with all things,can be as complex as you wish to make it. But if Feng shui can be reduced to one word, that word would be balance. Be in balance with your environment. If there is darkness, make some light. If there is ugliness, bring some beauty. This can be done by obeying strict rules and practices of a Feng shui master, to be sure. But it can also be done in a very basic way by anyone. For what brings balance to you and your environment is a very personal thing. Add some beauty, some compassion, some concern for your environment, and you will be repaid. You may not be a master, but you will be practicing the ancient philosophy of balance that is the core idea of Feng shui.

Dragons - Angels Of The Orient

Stories and myths about dragons run through most cultures, ancient and modern. Was there ever a beast that walked the earth that could account for these myths? Some say that the ancients may have found fossils of dinosaurs, and by the use of their imaginations 'created' a beast from this evidence. Another theory is that dragons were merely the creative embellishments of large snakes and reptiles. We will never know precisely what triggered ancient peoples to come up with these myths. The first references to dragons can be traced to approximately 4000 B.C. and probably began before that

In Western culture, the dragon was usually seen as a beast to be feared. Dragons lived in the sea waiting to devour ships that sailed too far. They lived in caves, protecting treasure with their breaths of fire. In the Middle Ages, the story of St. George fighting a dragon to save a princess entered the mythology of the west, and has been retold and depicted in art for centuries.

The dragon in the culture of the orient is quite different. Instead of a beast to be feared, the dragon is a positive symbol that represents many things, some of which are intelligence, persistence, optimism and energy. Most oriental dragons are creatures of beauty and wisdom. They are loved, and in some areas worshipped. They have been called the angels of the orient.

Dragons have been represented in all forms of art, and been used to decorate pagodas, temples, shrines, palaces and private homes for millennia in China. The Emperors of Japan traced their ancestry back to a daughter of a dragon king of the sea. Many Emperors of other Asian countries also claimed lineage from dragons. In China, many people think that the entire Chinese people are descendants of the dragons. Many things associated with oriental royalty involved depictions of dragons. To call an Emperor 'Dragon Faced' was a very high compliment. Everything connected with the dragons of the east are blessed.

In China, the dragon is seen as a symbol of protection, and is regarded the Supreme Being among creatures. It can live in the sea, fly through the sky, coil up on land and take the from of a mountain. It is also a symbol of good fortune. The Chinese believe that having a statue of a dragon in the east part of their home brings them good fortune and success in life. But the dragon can be placed anywhere in a home, except areas of rest such as bedrooms. The dragon can also bring great energy, and if placed in a bedroom could interfere with sleep. These ancient angels of the orient are among the most beautiful of Asian home decor items.

Chinese Puzzle Balls

The art of ornamental design has been part of China's culture for thousands of years. Art and craft have gone hand in hand to create items of great beauty and functionality. Beauty and functionality are inseparable from each other, for beauty itself is a function in Chinese culture. Each shares in equal importance. Intricately painted wall scrolls, highly ornamented hand fans, and other items of Chinese art are well known. Not so the Chinese Puzzle Ball. The Chinese Puzzle Ball is one of the summits of Chinese ornamental design and beauty.

These complex objects are thought to have an influence on the unity of the family. These puzzle balls come in many sizes, and can be made of ivory, wood, resin, soapstone or jade. Most are handmade, and consist of an outer sphere that contains smaller, movable spheres. They generally come in balls of 4-18 'layers'
The concentric layers or balls are open work carvings of plants, animals, dragons. They are an amazing display of craftsmanship. The outermost sphere is usually the most decorated, many times with dragons. The layers of the ball can be thought of as symbolizing, as a four-layer ball can symbolize the four basic elements of earth, wind, fire and water, or the four directions of the compass.

These multi-layered balls are one of the wonders of Chinese craftsmanship, practiced since ancient times. They are also rightfully known as Mystery Balls. Once they are seen and it is remembered that these balls are created out of a single sphere, you may consider them a mystery too!

Chinese Cinnabar Lacquerware

Lacquerware is any object that has been coated with lacquer, a substance that produces a very hard and durable finish. Lacquer is resistant to water damage, acid and abrasion. The most common type of lacquer comes from a specific type of tree, called the lac or varnish tree. When the tree is the proper size and age, slices are made into the bark and the sap is collected. Great care is taken while doing this, as any contact made between the raw sap and human skin can cause serious skin irritation. The art of lacquerware has been practiced in China and Japan since before the modern era. It has also been practiced in other areas, notably India. Indian lacquer is sometimes made from the secretions of a specific type of insect, rather than the sap of the varnish tree.

Cinnabar lacquerware is a very distinctive type. Lacquer can be applied without pigments added, and results in the piece having a translucent finish. With Cinnabar laquerware, a pigment is added to get the deep red color that is called Cinnabar, or China Red.

The name of this type comes from the mineral called cinnabar. This mineral was ground into a pigment, added to the lacquer and gave the piece a deep red color. Cinnabar is the mineral mercuric sulfide, and was also used in thermometers years ago. As this name implies, the metal mercury is present in the mineral, and when true cinnabar was used as a pigment, there was a real danger of mercury poisoning from just handling the finished lacquerware. Mercury was also released into the air when artisans ground the pigments, and the toxicity of the mineral was known in ancient China, for only slaves and convicts were used to mine it. Antique cinnabar lacquerware in existence usually has been coated with a clear protective coating that prevents mercury from leaching out of it, and handling of it is held to a minimum. These antiques are not on regular display, as they are photosensitive and natural or artificial light can cause the piece to turn brown. While the name is still used, there is no cinnabar in modern cinnabar lacquerware, It has been replaced by non-toxic pigments that emulate (but do not duplicate) the color of the original.

The creation of a cinnabar lacquerware piece begins with application of coats of lacquer onto the foundation of the piece. Up to 500 coats of lacquer are applied, according to the style of the artwork to be carved and the size of the piece. Each coating of lacquer is applied, and allowed to dry before the next is applied. It can literally take years for a piece to receive the needed coats of lacquer.

Once the piece has the desired layers of lacquer, a highly skilled artisan carves the ornate designs into the lacquer that cinnabar lacquerware is noted for. The tools of the artisan must be sharp, and his skills proficient, for the lacquer is very hard. Sometimes layers of different colors of lacquer have been applied, and the artisan has to carve at the required depth to bring out the contrasting colors. While ancient cinnabar consisted of most any type and size of object, modern cinnabar items are usually beads for jewelry, small boxes, plates, trays or other small items.

Reverse Glass Painting - Centuries Old Art Form

Reverse glass painting is the art of painting an image on the reverse side of a piece of glass or glass object so that the image can be viewed from the unpainted side. It has been done since early in the sixteenth century in Europe, and was known in China during the early 18th century.

This style of painting has been used for religious art, abstract art, clock faces, realistic landscapes, and scenes with people and portraits. It is a very exacting art form, especially when done as a realistic painting. The image is actually painted in reverse order on the glass. The finishing details of the painting must be put on the glass first, and must be done accurately as this is immediately covered with the next phase of the painting. So for a portrait reverse glass painting, the pupil of the eye would be painted first, then the eye, and so on in reverse order, finishing with the background. When the glass is turned over, the actual intended image is viewed from the unpainted side. Unlike stained glass, these paintings are meant to be mounted on a wall with light shown on them, instead of light going through them.

As best as art historians can determine, reverse glass painting evolved in Austria, the Black Forest region, and Romania in central Europe. And northern Spain, central and southern Italy in southern Europe. These paintings were generally created in small village family workshops, with fewer paintings produced by larger shops in large cities. Many of the images painted were of religious subjects in the beginning of the art form.
In the early 19th century the art form spread to other areas and appeared in the Middle East and West Africa. Areas where Islam flourished produced many reverse glass paintings. These paintings depicted scenes from Old Testament stories, stories and quotations from the Qu'ran.

The first documentation of reverse glass painting in China is in the writings of some Jesuit missionaries stationed there in the middle of the 18th century. Some say that it was the missionaries themselves that introduced the art in China, but art historians doubt that. The missionaries wrote about various art forms known in China when they arrived, and reverse glass painting was already being done in China upon their arrival. The exact time when the art form reached China is not documented in any known Chinese art history literature. There is evidence that Chinese glass painting was never considered a serious form of art by the Chinese themselves. Glass paintings used in China were usually located in restaurants or other public places and seldom in homes of the Chinese themselves. Much of it was also done for sale to tourists and foreigners.

With the innovations of photography and forms of printing in the middle of the 19th century, glass painting began to decline. There has been a recent resurgence in the art form, and reverse glass paintings are now being done in China, India and the world over.

Maitreya - The Laughing Buddha

Buddhism is most often associated with Japan, China, and other countries of that area of the world. But Buddhism had its beginning in India, roughly in the 5th century B.C. Buddhism was the result of challenges to traditional Hinduism, and these challenges culminated with the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the son of a wealthy tribal chieftain. He renounced his wealth and became the Buddha, or the awakened one. Buddhism came to China circa 60 A.D., but it did not become well known and popular until the third century A.D.

Maitreya, the future Buddha, is a bodhisattva, which is a Sanskrit word that roughly means wise, enlightened being. A bodhisattva is dedicated to helping others achieve enlightenment. Some sects of Buddhism believe that Maitreya will appear when the teachings of Gautama Buddha are no longer taught and are forgotten. But the meanings and beliefs about Matireya are many and varied within Buddhist beliefs.

The laughing Buddha was a Ch'an Buddhist Monk that lived in China over 1000 years ago. The Ch'an sect of Buddhism is called Zen in Japan. Tradition says that this monk's name was Hotei, or Pu Tai (which means cloth sack). Tradition also says that he was a man of good and loving character, and as such he was linked with the traditions of Maitreya the future Buddha. Because of his large belly and smile he was also called The Laughing Buddha.

The Laughing Buddha is often times portrayed as carrying a cloth sack which is filled with various things. Money, candy for children, food, even the woes of the world. Sometimes he is portrayed as sitting, fanning himself with a type of fan called a 'wish giving' fan. He is sometimes portrayed with a begging bowl. But whether sitting or standing, he is always bald with a big pot belly and a smile on his face.

Belief in The Laughing Buddha is mostly based on legend. It is said that rubbing his protruding belly brings good luck. Statues of Maitreya are displayed in Buddhist temples, Chinese and Japanese homes, and other places around the world. The many schools of Feng Shui, the art of arranging spaces to fit the environment to achieve balance and harmony, utilize statues of Maitreya in many ways. In the office or in the home, a statue of this wandering monk can bring wealth, peace and joy.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Chinese Wall Scrolls - History, Practice and Artistry

The span of Chinese culture traverses 6,000 years, and the history of Chinese art is almost as long. The art of Chinese painting can be thought to begin with the Chinese written language, because Chinese characters began as simple pictures (or pictographs) thousands of years ago. These have evolved into the Chinese characters seen today. The technique of 'painting' those original pictographs naturally flowed into more detailed depictions of landscapes. The same utensils, round pointed brushes made from either goat hair or wolf hair are still used in traditional Chinese painting today. Painting and calligraphy were the two most highly prized arts in the courts of the nobles in ancient China, with calligraphy considered the purest form of art. Writings of famous calligraphers were mounted on scrolls and hung on walls.

The hand painted scroll is one example of how art was used to communicate in ancient China. The format used for Chinese paintings varied widely over time. Massive wall paintings, free-standing screens, horizontal and vertical scrolls, were some of the formats used. The horizontal hand scroll unrolled from right to left, giving the viewer a chance to look at one segment at a time. The horizontal hand scroll was like a picture story book, and lead to the shorter vertical hanging scroll.

Silk was usually used to make scrolls until the invention of paper, traditionally thought to have been invented in China in the first century A..D. Silk is not very absorbent, which led to the practice of slow and deliberate application of paint and ink. Early paper was made from a variety of substances such as rice straw, bark, reeds, bamboo, etc. These early papers were more absorbent and led to more spontaneously created paintings. Most modern wall scrolls are painted on Xuan paper, also known as rice paper. A wooden dowel is attached to the bottom of the scroll to prevent it from rolling up, and a thin piece of wood with a cord is placed at the top to hang the scroll from. Some scrolls have silk backing or edges on them, but few are actually painted on silk.

Vertical hanging scrolls were suspended on walls and gave the viewer an opportunity to get close up and examine the details of the painting, and to back up and take in the entire picture. Scrolls were taken down periodically, with different scrolls replacing them. The Chinese have long thought of a magical link between mankind and the landscape, so many of the early hanging scrolls were landscapes, with other subjects added over the years.

A Chinese painting is judged on how the theme of the painting balances with the rest of the picture, and the feelings it evokes. The subject matter itself is sometimes secondary. Chinese scroll paintings are wondrous creations of art, full of meaning, and give joy to the eye and soul. When you view a hand painted Chinese scroll you view thousands of years of history, practice, and artistry.

History Of The Chinese Hand Held Fan

The first Chinese fans were nothing more than bird feathers or large leaves. Tradition holds that King Wu of the Zhou Dynasty in the 11th century B.C. invented the Chinese hand-held fan, and the oldest known Chinese hand held fan was found in China in 1982 and is approximately 2,300 years old. The earliest half-moon fans were constructed of silk wrapped around bamboo spokes that were arranged in a semi-circle.

Fans were used only by the members of the royal court for many centuries, only becoming available to the general public during the Han Dynasty, 206 B.C. - 220 A.D. By the time of the Jin Dynasty, 317-420 A.D., so many fans were being made that the emperor halted the use of silk in their manufacture because silk
producers could not keep up.

While the Chinese are credited with the invention of the half-moon hand held fan, these first fans did not fold like modern ones do. The folding half-moon fan was brought to China in the 11th century A.D. from Japan. Today Chinese fans are still made from the traditional bamboo and silk materials, and also of paper, wood, bone, palm tree leaves and other materials.

During the 5th century A.D. the moon fan, or round fan became very popular. Young ladies, especially those inside the imperial palace were very fond of these. These round fans later took on other shapes also, such as oval. The ancient Chinese were a very artistic culture. Everyday items such as fans were valued not only for their functionality, but by their beauty. Fan painting and decoration are but one example of this. There has been a revival of the ancient art form of the Chinese Hand Held Fan. Thy are things of beauty that can add to the decor of any home.

The Lion Dance - Ancient Art Form of China

The Lion Dance of China originated over one thousand years ago. It depicts the Asiatic lions of nearby India, some of which may have been presented to early Chinese Emperors as gifts. Lions in Chinese culture are guardian creatures, with statues of lions guarding royal palaces, homes of government officials and royal tombs.

There are many variants of the Lion Dance throughout Asia, including main land China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan and other countries. The Lion Dance in China can be roughly categorized into Northern and Southern. Lions consist of paper mache heads with the body being of fabric. The body as well as the head is also decorated with fur, feathers, and decorative paint. The Chinese Lion Dance is most usually done by two people per lion, unlike the Chinese Dragon Dance that can have ten or more people per Dragon.

The Northern Dance originated as entertainment for the imperial court. The Northern Lion is very shaggy and can be orange, red, yellow, or a combination of these colors. The Northern Dance is very acrobatic and is done mainly for entertainment. The Northern Dance many times depicts pairs of lions, sometimes a family of two large and two small lions.

The Southern Dance is more often performed as a ceremony to prevent evil and for good luck. The Southern Lion displays a wide variety of colors. It also usually has a mirror on the center of the forehead, very large eyes and a horn at the center of the head.

The Lion Dance can be performed at any time of the year, but is usually associated with the Chinese New Year. The Dance itself is very formalized, with a different ritual and routine for each country and area. But in most cases, the dance begins with the lion entering the town or village and visiting the local temples and ancestral halls to pay respects. Then it continues down the streets of the town to spread joy and good fortune to the people. During Chinese New Year, the lion dancers visit the storefronts of businesses for the 'picking of the greens'. The owner of the business will attach a red envelope filled with money to a head of cabbage or lettuce, and then tie it above the door of their shop. The lion will approach the greens, and 'eat' the greens but spit out the money. This part of the Lion Dance brings good fortune to the business owner and the lion dancers keep the money in the envelope.

The Lion Dance has developed a close relationship to the martial arts, specifically Kung Fu. Many Lion Dance troupes consist of members of Kung Fu clubs that practice the dance very hard to gain athleticism and proficiency.

This short essay only scratches the surface of the beauty, customs and variety of The Lion Dance, a centuries old part of Asian culture.

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Worked in a steel mill for 30 years. Amateur chef, piano player, book reader, letter writer, gardener, peace advocate.