Monday, October 29, 2007

Silver and Silk

And now for something totally different... Silver and Silk is the name of a DVD documentary that Kathy and Bart lent me recently (the link is to the book, I can't find the DVD online). The documentary is about the marvelous textiles, embroidery, and silver jewelry crafted by the people of the Guizhou Province of China. Phila McDaniel, a friend of Kathy's, is the woman who went to Guizhou 27 times starting in 1984 to study the 17 different nationalities of people living there and brought back to this country examples of their wonderful artwork which were on display in an exhibit at the Mingei International Museum in San Diego until October 1st. But it is not to late to see examples from the exhibit as they are now part of the permanent Chinese collection at the museum.

I wish I could show you pictures from the documentary because the fiber artwork is stunning. The few pictures that the Mingei have put up on the web do not do justice to them. Incredibly, the amazing gowns, collars, skirts, bibs, and headpieces are crafted for the ordinary citizen to wear and not just for royalty. Each baby is given a cap at birth and at age one, they are given a new hat. When they enter school, they get a scholar's cap. Baby carriers display the best needlework of the women.

They do not marry within their own village, so festivals are held between villages so that the young people may meet. It is at these festivals that the fantastic silver headdresses are worn by the girls (usually made by their fathers) along with their own hand crafted skirts, etc. In one clan, the Small-flower Miao, girls embroider collars to give the boys they wish to marry. A boy may get several collars but he will return all but the one from the girl of his choice. A girl will start at age 7 to embroider and create her wedding dress. She will marry 7 years later. Her excellence in needlecraft is a sign of her diligence, creativity, and even beauty.

The names of the various clans will sometimes describe the particular type of garment that clan specializes in as in the Long-skirt Miao, and the Short-skirt Miao. The Folded-silk Miao fold silk into triangles to appliqué them on to costumes. The 100-bird Miao drop silk worms onto a board and let them crawl in all directions to make silk felt. Long Horn Miao men wear horns on their heads all day every day. The women specialize in pleated skirts and will wear several layers of skirts. The more pleats, the better, and the more skirts, the better. There are also the Small-flower Miao mentioned above and the Moon Mountain Miao.

Since they have no written language, the people tell stories with their needlework. Dragons are very popular in their designs. Paper cuts are used as templates. The pattern is drawn on paper and embroidered over. The Dong nationality makes Brown Shiny Cloth using indigo dyed silk that is rubbed with a hide soaked in pig's blood which makes the fabric tough (and brown). It is then polished with egg whites.

Guizhou, China was only accessible by a footpath until the 1980s and the recent industrialization of China has not changed the way of life for these people very much—yet. You can see more photos of their artwork at this site. Photos of the people of Guizhou and nearby provinces at work on their textiles are shown here.

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