2015

Ingenious Craftsmanship with Needle and Thread

Yangzhou Museum

Exhibition of Embroidery Artworks by Lu Shuxian, Lu Junjian and Lu Weihua

Preface
In Yangzhou, a place that has enjoyed prosperity for hundreds of years, embroidery has been seen as indicator of “marital fidelity” for ladies of noble and wealthy families, and a life-supporting skill for those of impoverishment, thus the saying “every female of Yangzhou is good at embroidering”. Yangzhou Embroidery, as an important component of Suzhou Embroidery, one the four most famous categories of Chinese embroidery, has a history of almost 2,000 years as it originated in the Han dynasty (202 BC-220 AD), gained popularity in the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD) and witnessed its heyday in the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1912 AD). Known for its super-thin split-silk threads, well-arranged dense stitches, elegant color palette and high expressiveness, Yangzhou Embroidery has developed two distinctive sub-categories, namely, embroideries of archaized landscapes and free-hand ink paintings, based on the influence of the history and culture of Yangzhou, especially the painting style of the renowned painters nicknamed “Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou”. Born in a family of scholars and embroiderers, the Yangzhou Embroidery master Lu Shuxian (1924-2014 AD), as the founder and pioneer of the “free-hand ink-painting embroidery”, developed her own unique techniques which combine the ways of embroidering and painting into an integral whole, and created embroidery pieces that maintain the artistic charm of free-hand ink paintings. Lauded as “needle painting”, Master Lu’s distinctive embroidery artworks unveil the essence of Yangzhou’s history and culture by endowing this art form with historical and cultural elements as well as her own best wishes. Master Lu’s daughter Lu Junjian and granddaughter Lu Weihua, who have been profoundly influenced by her, have also created amazing pieces. In order to pay our respects to Master Lu who unfortunately passed away in the summer of 2014, we present this exhibition of embroidery masterpieces of the three generations of the Lu family, hoping to show the public their artistic treasures as well as noble characters.

Comparison of splitting silk threads and the application on embroidery

Process of silk splitting

Inheritance
First generation: Zhang Lishi (not real name but a title for women surnamed Li who married men surnamed Zhang) (1870-1937 AD), born into an official’s family, had studied writing, painting and embroidery following renowned tutors since early childhood. After getting married, she ran a shop named “Chengfochu” with her husband, engaging in the business of clay figurines, wooden Buddha sculptures and Buddhism-themed embroideries. Second generation: Zhang Qiuwen (1895-1977 AD), daughter of the first generation, exceled in various embroidery categories under the influence of family. Third generation: Lu Shuxian (1924-2014 AD), daughter of Zhang Qiuwen, started learning to embroider following her mother at the age of eight. Adept at free-hand, figure, archaized landscape, bird & flower embroideries, Lu Shuxian had been granted many titles, including but not limited to, Advanced Artist and Crafter, one of the first “Chinese Embroidery Masters” and “Excellent Inheritors of Chinese Folk Culture”, master of arts and crafts of Jiangsu province, representative inheritor of provincial-level intangible cultural heritage item. Fourth generation: Daughter of Lu Shuxian born in 1954, Lu Junjian, Advanced Artist and Crafter and master of arts and crafts of Yangzhou city, has inherited ingenious embroidering skills from her mother and excels in embroidery design, tie-dye, as well as free-hand, flower, fish & insect embroideries. Fifth generation: Daughter of Lu Junjian born in 1981, Lu Weihua started learning to embroider following Lu Shuxian and Lu Junjian and is well versed in various embroidery techniques, and also in designing and drawing. After graduating from the Central School of Nantes with a doctoral degree of design in 2013, she became a tutor in the Department of Industrial Design at the School of Electro-mechanical Engineering in Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Madame Lu Shuxian at home, photo taken in 1962.

Inheritance of Art and Love, photo taken in 2004

Madame Lu Junjian, daughter of Lu Shuxian, at home, photo taken in 2010.

Madame Lu Shuxian at home, photo taken in 2012. Though at the age of 89, Master Lu had not stopped embroidering.

Gallery

Magu, the Longevity Goddess, Extending Her Birthday Wishes
Painter: Huang Shen (1687-1772 AD), Qing dynasty
As the masterpiece of the Yangzhou Embroidery master Lu Shuxian, and the only of her artworks that was kept in Yangzhou before she retired, this piece took her 20 years, namely, from 1959 to 1979, to finish.

The original painting scroll of “Magu, the Longevity Goddess, Extending Her Birthday Wishes”

Autumn Plants and Insects
Painter: Li Shan (1686-1762 AD), Qing dynasty
This piece was crafted by the artist when she was 84 years old based on the painting and calligraphy by Li Shan (1686-1762 AD), one of the well-known painters of the “Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou”. The painting features an inscribed poem “Twitter of an insect sounding like looms rose when the night befell, before long the same sound came from somewhere else. I tried to find it in the courtyard the following morning but failed, the twitter was heard again when the night returned”.

Lonely Seagull
Painter: Li Shan (1686-1762 AD), Qing dynasty
This piece of embroidery was done by the artist when she was 85 years old based on the painting of Li Shan (1686-1762 AD), one of the well-known painters dubbed as the “Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou”. While transferring the atmosphere of the painting with her unique embroidery techniques, the artisan endowed this piece with something new based on her recreation, expressing her value of calm and composure during adverse moments of life. A series of embroidery techniques including thickening stitches (shi zhen, 施针), long and short stitches (tao zhen, 套针), seeding stitches (dian zhen, 点针), full-and-broken-line stitches (xushi zhen, 虚实针) were employed.

Willows and Ducks
Painter: Huang Shen (1687-1772 AD), Qing dynasty
Based on the painting by Huang Shen (1687-1772 AD), one of the eight painters known as the “Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou”, this embroidery piece illustrates a scene of a pair of ducks swimming leisurely in the water by the side of waving willow branches in breeze, a perfect visual expression of the household Chinese poem line “ducks swimming in the river are the first to know that the spring has come”. Various techniques were adopted in the piece, including long and short stitches (tao zhen, 套针), block shading stitches (qiang zhen, 抢针), neat stitches (qi zhen, 齐针), seeding stitches (dian zhen, 点针), broken-line-making stitches (xu zhen, 虚针), etc.

Gourds (Finger Painting)
Painter: Luo Pin (1733-1799 AD), Qing dynasty
The painting was done by Luo Pin (1733-1799 AD), one of the famous painters known as the “Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou”, who painted these gourds with his finger dyed with ink when he was drunk. Such a technique, later regarded as “finger painting”, is a unique category with special interest in traditional Chinese painting. This gourd finger painting features simple and seemingly clumsy brushwork, characteristic of inscriptions on ancient bronzeware and stone steles.

Orchid in Flower Pot
Painter: Li Fangying (1695-1755 AD), Qing dynasty
Time of Embroidering: 2003 (80 years old)
This embroidery artwork is based on the painting by Li Fangying (1695-1755 AD) as one of the eight painters known as the “Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou”. The depiction of an orchid, a plant seen as the symbol of pride and dignity in the Chinese culture, growing in a broken flower pot reveals the painter’s innovative artistic thinking. With a flexible application of various techniques, the embroidery piece successfully expresses the paint’s unrestrained characters in artistic creation.

Ink Plum Blossoms
Painter: Wang Shishen (1686-1759 AD), Qing dynasty
Time of Embroidering: 2004 (81 years old)
The inspiration for this embroidery piece came from the painting by Wang Shishen (1686-1759 AD), the painter regarded as “master plum-blossom painter”, and also a member of the “Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou”. Besides the elegant artistic charm, what makes the painting special is that its inscription lies in the center of the image.
By use of various techniques including long and short stitches (tao zhen, 套针), broken-line-making stitches (xu zhen, 虚针) and outline stitch (gunzhen, 滚针), the embroiderer successfully transferred the layers of ink from painting onto the embroidery, giving a vivid illustration of the gesture of plum trees in snow based on combination of thick and thin, ingenious and simple needlework, revealing the noble and pure characters of plum.

Orchid
Painter: Li Fangying (1695-1755 AD), Qing dynasty
Time of Embroidering: 2008
This embroidery piece is based on the painting of Li Fangying (1695-1755 AD), one of the eight painters known as the “Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou”. In traditional Chinese culture, orchid has been taken as a cultural symbol by writers and painters to express their own inner world. The embroiderer mainly employed long and short stitches (changduan zhen, 长短针) to illustrate the slim and graceful orchid leaves.

China Roses Blooming in Four Seasons
Painter: Li Shan (1686-1762 AD), Qing dynasty
Time of Embroidering: 2008-2010 (85-87 years old)

Newly-blooming Wisteria with Autumn Dew
Painter: Li Shan (1686-1762 AD), Qing dynasty
Time of Embroidering: 2008-2010 (85-87 years old)

Long March-Qilv (poems with eight line and seven characters in each line)
Inspiration Source: Chairman Mao’s poem
Time of Embroidering: 2007 (84 years old)

Li Bai Reciting Poems while Walking
Painter: Liang Kai, Southern Song dynasty
Time of Embroidering: 2009 (86 years old)
This embroidery piece was created by Lu Shuxian at the age of 86 based on the work of the well-known painter Liang Kai of the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279 AD) who is regarded as one of the earliest painters practicing simple- and free-hand-brushworks in figure painting.

Back to the Countryside
Time of Embroidering: 2001 (78 years old)
This embroidery piece is based on the painting of the well-known modern Chinese painter Ren Bonian (1840-1895 AD), which expresses the painter’s laid-back state of mind with an interesting subject and rich color palette. This piece took the embroiderer two years to finish, during which the artisan enjoyed much pleasure, maybe exactly what the painter felt while working on the painting. In order to transfer the rich colors of the painting on the embroidery, the artisan selected about 20 color combinations of mix-color silk threads (with 13 colors in each combination), and she also masterfully adopted various techniques such as long and short stitches (tao zhen, 套针), seeding stitches (dian zhen, 点针), thickening stitches (shi zhen, 施针), full-and-broken-line stitches (xushi zhen, 虚实针).

Orchid and Bamboo
Painter: Wen Zhengming (1470-1559 AD), Ming Dynasty
Time of Embroidering: 2006 (83 years old)
This painting illustrates both the unyielding bamboo with vitality and the elegant, charming orchids. The inscription on the embroidery was crafted by Lu Shuxian, and the bamboo and orchids were done by the joint hands of Master Lu and her daughter Lu Junjian. Thanks to their relationship between mother and daughter, and also tutor and apprentice, the two artists’ perfect cooperation brings out the best of each other.

Prince Feather and Waterfowl
Inspiration Source: Song-and-Yuan painting album
Time of Embroidering: 1998 (75 years old)
Based on a painting collected in the painting album of Song and Yuan dynasties, this embroidery piece features elegance that is typical of the paintings of that historical period. The highlight of this piece of needlework lies in the sense of movement it creates, with the waterfowl seemingly to fly and bite on the shrimp in the water, which, though barely seen, is yet another testimony to the ingenious technique of the artisan. The bird was crafted vividly, with lustrous and fluffy feathers.

Mountains and Waters
Inspiration Source: Song-and-Yuan painting album
Time of Embroidering: 1999 (76 years old)
Based on an elegant painting depicting mountains and waters selected from the painting album of Song and Yuan dynasties, this piece, by use of needle and thread, illustrates the undulating mountains covered with layers of greenery. The piece, lustrous and smooth on the surface, has been so meticulously crafted that viewers may feel like being in the scene it presents.

Autumn Cicada on Maple Leaves
Painter: Qi Baishi (1864-1957 AD)
Time of Embroidering: 2005 (82 years old)
This piece is based on the painting by the famous modern Chinese painter Qi Baishi (1864-1957 AD). Though with a common subject, the painting creates a special sense of pleasure. Thanks to the embroiderer’s brilliant combination of various techniques such as long and short stitches (tao zhen, 套针), thickening stitches (shi zhen, 施针), random stitches (luan zhen, 乱针), full-and-broken-line stitches (xushi zhen, 虚实针), along with the thoughtful selection of colored silk threads, the embroidery piece depicts maple leaves with eye-catching colors and cicadas with agility.

Xie Lingyun Facing Wind
Painter: Fan Zeng
Time of Embroidering: 1999 (76 years old)
This embroidery piece is based on the painting of the heavyweight modern Chinese painter which portrays the detached bearing of the well-known poet Xie Lingyun (385-433 AD) while the figure standing in wind with a raised head. The painting features an empty background, a simple composition, and free-flowing brushwork, representing a perfect illustration of both the physical look and the temperament of the figure. With flexible and elegant needlework, the embroidery piece attaches great importance to the facial expression, beard and garment of the figure.

Intoxicated Poet with a Wine Pot
Painter: Fan Zeng
Time of Embroidering: 2004 (81 years old)
As one of few figure embroideries crafted at the later years of Lu Shuxian, this piece was based on an improvised artwork by the well-known modern Chinese painter Fan Zeng, which illustrates an intoxicated poet walking leisurely carrying a stick with a gourd-shaped wine pot tied to one of its end. Thanks to the artist’s masterful application of various techniques including long and short stitches (tao zhen, 套针), seeding stitches (dian zhen, 点针), inserted stitches (qian zhen, 嵌针), etc., the figure was portrayed to every detail.

Fish at Ease
Painter: Mo Yidian
Time of Embroidering: 2003 (80 years old)

Cat
Painter: Zhu Da (1626-ca. 1705 AD), Ming dynasty
Time of Embroidering: 2009 (86 years old)
Based on the painting of the famous Ming-and-Qing painter Zhu Da (1626-ca. 1705 AD), a painter with strong personality who excelled especially in flower and bird painting, and tended to endow objects with his own emotions, the embroiderer adopted hairy stitches (shimao, 施毛针) and lined stitches (pai zhen, 排针) to imitate the rendering of ink on rice paper, which was employed by the painter to depict the texture of fur and hair, leading to the illustration of a lovely cat with charming naivety.

Fish
Painter: Zhu Da (1626-ca. 1705 AD), Ming dynasty
Time of Embroidering: 2010 (87 years old)
This embroidery piece is based on the painting by the famous Ming-and-Qing painter Zhu Da (1626-ca. 1705). The highlight of the painting lies in its “less”, or “scarcity” in the painter’s words, only one fish in the image with nothing in the background, which unexpectedly leaves the viewers with endless imagination.
The embroidery piece, by use of various types of stitches, depicts an agile swimming fish at ease, exuding a sense of tranquility and enjoyment.

Magnolia
Painter: Zhu Da (1626-ca. 1705 AD), Ming dynasty
Time of Embroidering: 2006 (83 years old)
This embroidery piece is based on an elegant and refreshing painting featuring dense and strong ink brushwork by the well-known painter Zhu Da (1626-ca. 1705). By use of the various types of stitches such as long and short stitches (changduan zhen, 长短针), full-and-broken-line stitches (xushi zhen, 虚实针) and diagonal stitches (xie zhen, 斜针), as well as correct selection of colors, the artisan managed to reproduce the strong and dense brushwork on the embroidery, vividly illustrating the beautiful flowers and branches with vitality.

Flower in Vase
Painter: Zhu Da (1626-ca. 1705 AD), Ming dynasty
Time of Embroidering: 2008(85 years old)
This piece of needlework is based on the well-known painter Zhu Da (1626-ca. 1705)’s painting which illustrates an orchid place in a vase, symbolizing “the one that outshines the others”, exuding a wonderful artistic conception. By use of the skillful application of long and short stitches (tao zhen, 套针), broken-line stitches (xu zhen, 虚针) and neat stitches (qi zhen, 齐针), the artisan outlined the vase and the crack patterns on it with simple needlework, and depicted the floral patterns with texture-stroke-like techniques, fully transferring the artistic charm of the painting onto the embroidery.

Willow and Butterflies
Painter: Zhang Daqian (1899-1983 AD)
Time of Embroidering: 2007(84years old)
This embroidery piece is based on an elegant and refreshing painting by the well-known modern Chinese painter Zhang Daqian (1899-1983 AD) which illustrates a typical spring scene with willow branches waving and butterflies dancing in spring breeze. Thanks to the embroiderer’s correct choice of colors and skillful application of techniques such as split stitches (jie zhen, 接针), linked-pearl-making stitches (lianzhu zhen, 连珠针), broken-line-making stitches (xu zhen, 虚针), neat stitches (qi zhen, 齐针), etc., this piece of needlework portrays a scene that combines reality and fantasy in which the subtle relationship between the moving and the still, the slightly curly willow leaves and the dancing butterflies are all messengers of the spring.

Gourds
Painter: Qi Baishi (1864-1957 AD)
Time of Embroidering: 1999-2004

Crab
Painter: Xu Wei (1521-1593 AD), Ming dynasty
Time of Embroidering: 2005
This embroidery piece is based on a partial section of the painting Crab by the well-known Ming-dynasty painter Xu Wei (1521-1593 AD), giving the crab the entire image. Having mixed glue in the ink to avoid permeation, the painter employed various techniques, thus creating a vivid crab with just a few strokes.

Pipa
Painter: Shi Junzhen
Time of Embroidering: 1998
Based on a fine-brushwork painting by modern Chinese painter Shi Junzhen, this is one of the few fine-needlework embroidery piece by Lu Junjian. The original painting, with an elegant yet eye-catching color palette, well-arranged meticulous brushwork, is of clear features of traditional Chinese painting. And thanks to the correct selection of colors and skillful techniques, the embroidery piece fully demonstrates of meticulous charm and real-life illustration characteristic of fine-brushwork painting.

Great Wisdom Seems Slow-witted
Painter: Li Shan (1686-1762 AD), Qing dynasty
Time of Embroidering: 2013
This piece of needlework is based on a finger painting by Li Shan (1686-1762 AD), one of the “Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou”, who depicted an autumn scene of a clumsy but lovely goose standing beside several reed catkins.
The geese, seen as a dull animal by the common people, has been a subject for praise in Chinese poetry since ancient times, as geese are elegant, modest, diligent and enjoy the present life. The creator of this embroidery piece aims to express her understanding that people with great wisdom may appear slow-witted, just as the geese.

To Be Continued
Painter: Wu Guanzhong
Time of Embroidering: 2015

Yangzhou Museum
Credits: Story

We would like to extend our gratitude to Madame Lu Junjian and Lu Weihua for their support to this exhibition!

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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