The Art of Folding Fans II

Arts & Crafts Museum Hangzhou

The Art of Folding Fans Appealing to Both Scholars and Laymen

Fans first emerged in the Chinese history with the founding and evolution of hierarchy in the feudal society as a symbol of imperial power as opposed to a cooling tool for daily use. They later got out of the exclusive possession of royal families and became accessible to commoners thanks to the changes of society, development of economy and revolutions of people’s ideology.

The mid-Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD) of China witnessed the popularity of folding fans, which evolved into an identity symbol for dignitaries and nobilities, an accessory for the literati to adorn their elegant life, and a carrier for artists and crafters to express their talents and craftsmanship.

III Fan Guard & Rib Carving, an Epitome of Wisdom
It is fair to say that the shaping and decoration of fan ribs provides an apposite stage for the fan-making crafters to display their talents and craftsmanship, just as what the fan panels do for painters and calligraphers. Various materials could be chosen for fan ribs, as stated in 'New Recordings of Fans' by Wang Tingding of the Qing dynasty, “Xiangfei bamboo, peach branches, sandalwood, ebony, tortoiseshell, ivory, all the precious materials (can be adopted for fan ribs)”. The small fan ribs evolved into an art form that integrated various materials with multiple ornamental techniques including carving, inlaying, lacquer-applying, openwork, burnt-patterns, painting, etc., thanks to the diversification of rib materials and the thriving of bamboo carving in Jiangnan of China. When the ingenious carving techniques and the elegant painting and calligraphy were combined into an integral whole, painting and calligraphy folding fans came into being as a distinctive category of fans, appealing to the tastes of both scholars and laymen.

Republican-China Folding Fan Guards with Carved Painting.

Bamboo carving on fan guards is a category of bamboo carving in which the masters of bamboo carving apply their ingenious techniques such as shallow-carving, deep-carving, relief-carving, green-bark-leaving to create patterns of landscapes, flowers, figures, calligraphy, etc.

Modern Folding Fan Guards with Carved Painting by Lin Zhaolu. Born in Suzhou of China’s eastern Jiangsu province, Lin Zhaolu (1887-1966 AD), was known for achieving fine blade work and elegant style in bamboo carving while excelling in carving reproductions of inscriptions on ancient bronzeware, especially stoneware, and also good at copying bamboo slip or oracle bone inscriptions.

The front of Modern Women’s Folding Fan with Burnt Painting on Guards. Burnt painting, also known as “fire-brush” painting, is a category of decoration composed of burnt marks by glowing metals on fan guards and ribs.

The back. In light of the principle “design before paint, and paint in one breath once design is finalized”, burnt painting can create a 3D visual effect by burning multiple layers and rich colors, while realizing the techniques of traditional Chinese painting such as outlining, dotting, shading, line drawing, etc. That’s why not only the style of traditional Chinese painting can be maintained, but also a real-life illustration can be achieved through burnt painting.

Beautiful details.

Republican-China Fan Guards with Bo Luo Lacquer Coating. These guards have a coating of bo luo lacquer, pineapple lacquer literally and alias rhino skin lacquer, also known as tiger fur lacquer or birch lacquer in North China, which is a mixture of raw lacquer, turquoise, cinnabar, coral, etc. Usually in colors of overlapping red, black and yellow, bo luo lacquer can leads to a texture similar to that created by the technique of “scraping bo luo lacquer”. According to Recordings of Lacquerware by Huang Cheng of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD), “rhino skin lacquerware features patterns similar to clouds, floral medallions, and pine bark grains. Lately there has been an emergence of a kind of red rhino skin lacquerware, shining with the lustrous and smooth surface”.

Modern Folding Fan Guards and Ribs with Round Head and “Yumen” Holes. Openwork holes on folding fan guards feature various shapes and arrangements, among which such a type with one pattern group appearing repetitiously in rows on the guards is called “yumen” holes. Sometimes these holes would be inlaid with metal filigree or silk fabric. Materials such as bamboo or ebony were often adopted for ribs and guards that were to bear such openwork-hole decorations.

Republican-China Round-head Fan Guards with Red Lacquer Coating.

The guards of this folding fan went through a process literally called “scarping red lacquer” in China, also known as “carving red lacquer”. Often applied to a wood or metal base, such a technique involved the following procedures, first, coating the base in up to one or two hundred layers of red lacquer, or 80 or 90 layers at least, creating line drawing based on pre-determined design when the lacquer was half-dried, and carving patterns of birds, flowers, figures, landscapes, etc., in line with the drawing, and finally scraping unnecessary red lacquer on the surface.

IV Exquisite Fan Pouches
Also known as fan covers or fan bags, fan pouches were invented to protect and provide convenience for carrying folding fans. Most of the existing fan pouches were created during the Qing dynasty as they were not used any more in the Republican China era. Usually made of silk fabrics, fan pouches were usually embellished with embroidered landscape, birds and flowers, poems, Eight Treasures, as well as motifs or characters with auspicious meanings such as fortune, wealth, longevity, etc., based on the application of multiple embroidery techniques including gold couching, seed-stitches, applique embroidery, etc. They were also equipped with exquisitely decorated buckles, which can be used to fix these pouches onto waist belts of people.

Modern Fan Pouch with Gold Couching Embroidery. As one of the Su Embroidery techniques, gold couching falls into the stripe-making category. It means that via gold couching technique, patterns would be made of by arranging single-strand or double-strands gold threads, with double-strands more commonly-seen, in parallel and then fixed onto one side of the foundation fabric instead of passing through the fabric.

Qing-dynasty Fan Pouch with Seed-stitch Crane Medallions. When applying seed stitches, as one of the traditional technique of the Su Embroidery, the crafters usually make a loop around the needle tip after beginning a stitch and then pull the loop all the way down to the fabric by pulling the needle to the opposite direction and then fix the loop onto the fabric by passing the needle across the fabric, creating seed-like dots on the foundation fabric, hence the name.

Seen as an evolution of the ancient chain stitches, seed stitches show evidence of earliest use on the embroidery unearthed from the Eastern Han tombs in Noyon uul of Mongolia, and are still applied as the main embroidery technique by ethnic minority groups such as Miao, Dong, Shui, etc., living in the southwest of China. And a new category named “linen-yarn or horsetail-hair outlined seed stitch embroidery” was even developed based on the combination of seed stitches with the linen-yarn and horsetail-hair embroidery techniques in these areas.

Modern Fan Pouch with Seed-stitch Deer and Crane.

The embroidered pattern of deer and cranes in spring shows the artisan’s wishes for prosperity and peace for the country and the people, as both deer and cranes are species of auspicious meanings in the Chinese culture.

Republican-China Fan Pouch with Applique Embroidery. Applique embroidery, also one of the techniques used in the Su Embroidery, is a procedure of sewing applique onto the embroidery foundation generally speaking.

When applying applique embroidery technique, the craftsmen would first cut out applique based on pre-design, and then sew the edges of them with various stitches onto the foundation fabric, sometimes padding the applique with cloth, silk threads, cotton wadding, etc., so as to create a relief-style pattern. Simple to practice, applique embroidery usually leads to a distinctive and decorum style with patterns composed of applique blocks.

Republican-China Fan Pouch with Embroidered Cats and Butterflies.

This fan pouch shows the artisan’s best wishes for longevity with the embroidered pattern of cats and butterflies, as they are homonyms with the word “Mao Die” which means an old age of 80 or 90 in the Chinese language.

Hangzhou Arts and Crafts Museum
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