Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Something Unexpected - Final

In earlier times and not long ago, the infant mortality rate in China was very, very high.  Children were referred to as “baby” or “little one” and not even given a name until they had survived 100 days.  So, perhaps that is why bai jia bei, or hundred families’ quilts, were important and continue to be made.  Their purpose was to keep the baby safe from evil.   

St. Louis Art Museum 112: 1989
Gift of Julius A Gordon and Ilene Gordon Wittels in memory of Rose Gordon

Historically, this may have developed out of another tradition where a new mother was given small pieces of silk and embroidery so she could make a jacket for the child.  The resulting bai jia yi or “hundred families’ jacket” symbolized the community of people that wished the child love and blessings and protection from evil. Above is an example of a bai jia yi from the collections of the Saint Louis Art Museum.

- Cindy DeLong

In search of meaning...

Maonan women often made bed coverings to commemorate their impending marriage. This maker was clearly focused on assuring that every piece of fabric placed in this project had spiritual meaning. Look closely at every detail of this piece and you might get a glimpse of what was on going through her mind as she planned, stitched and finished this utilitarian object for her new home.

What were her questions? Was she thinking about her betrothed? Was she thinking about the love they shared or had she even met her soon to be husband? She may have wondered, if their marriage, like her quilt top, would be filled with happiness, prosperity, fertility (perhaps many sons), longevity or even immorality? Can we even begin to know the wishes and hopes of her spirit as she begins this new phase of life?

Oh, the mysteries of finding meaning in quilts.

- Dottie Evans

I have been looking into the similarities and differences between the IQSCM's ceremonial robe worn by the Yi people (see picture from Day One) and a Buddhist priest's robe. First, the visual differences are striking. Both have a large wingspan and similar silhouettes, yet the ceremonial robe is pieced and appliqued while the priest's robe is primarily embroidered. The priest's robe is also filled with Buddhist symbols, dragons, and other auspicious symbols.

While this robe is from China, not Tibet, the ceremonial robe seems to be a close relation to Tibetan textiles to the Yi people's textiles. The people of Tibet are staunch Buddhists, compared to the Yi people, who are primarily Animists, not Buddhists. The Yi people moved from Tibet into the Chinese Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, leading me to believe that there could have been a transmission of ideas and influences between these two groups.

Here you can see a Buddhist priest robe in the collections of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. And here is one from the Brooklyn Museum of Art

- Amanda Lensch

At the end of my study of the black silk waistcoat, I wondered if there were others in existence either by the same maker or other maker(s). It was suggested that I count the stitches per inch so that the quilting could hypothetically be compared with other like jackets. Here is a quilted robe from the collection of the Hong Kong Museum of Art -- I wish I could compare it to that one. 

Quilted robe from the Hong Kong Museum of Art

There are 6-7 stitches per inch on the subject waistcoat. The black quilting could not be photographed against the black silk. 

- Anna Rolapp

Comparison piece. Baby carrier, IQSCM 2011.026.0006

My baby carrier has now been observed, compared with other Chinese carriers, and researched, using books and web sources. However, it looks new, not used. Did the maker never marry? Did the baby die young? Or did the person bringing the carrier to Nebraska buy it at a market? Was it made for the tourist trade? I want a happy ending.

- Ruth Walker

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Something Unexpected - Day Three

When making a quilt there is value in stepping away and coming back to the project the next day, week or sometimes months later; the same is true when researching an object. I notice new symbolism with each passing day; today it was discovering two new motifs, Buddha’s Hands --which symbolizes prosperity in Chinese culture (top) and Cao Guojiu’s (one of the 8 Daoist Immortals) Castanets or Tablets (bottom).

- Dottie Evans

21st century Chinese girls are going to school and receiving an education. They are spending less time with their mothers and grandmothers learning the traditional sewing techniques of their culture. In the past a young girl would make a baby carrier before her marriage. Today she is more likely to go to the market and buy a finished carrier made by an older woman in the community. Or she will buy the component parts of the carrier and assemble them at home. The finished product shows evidence of the differing skill levels of the two generations.

- Ruth Walker

Ba Gua (Eight Symbols of Daoist philosophy,
often depicted in an octagon shape)
In Taoism, “bagua,” which means “eight symbols,” represents principles of reality. There are many combinations and relate to heaven, earth, wind, water, and other concepts. They are represented by an eight-sided form we call an octagon. A Chinese bagua quilt has eight-sided blocks similar to what Western quilters call Pineapple Log Cabin. 
Block in a mid-nineteenth century Japanese kimono
“Ba Gua” block from a 30-year-old “Bai Jia Bei”
(Hundred Families Quilt)

Today we saw this form in a circa 1850 Japanese kimono jacket, the circa 1983 bai jia bei quilt, and in the 2013 bai jia bei quilt I am studying. The blocks in the kimono jacket and older bai jia bei were less than perfect, actually pretty crooked and irregular, and they reminded me a little bit of a crazy quilt block. 

”Cracked Ice” imagery in a decorative window screen
Then I remembered a window we saw at the Beijing Antique Market. It is a design Marin calls “cracked ice.” Could this be related to the development of crazy quilts too? 

- Cindy DeLong

Longpo Yi ("Dragon Wife's Robe") from Writing with Thread: Traditional Textiles of Southwest Chinese Minorities

Today's task was to go through supplementary material to search for similar objects, design styles, etc... In one of the books, Writing with Thread: Traditional Textiles of Southwest Chinese Minorities, from the University of Hawaii Art Gallery, I found something exciting! Its another example of this object! Appliqued half-square triangles are placed on a dark woven ground. The description describes this object as a Longpo Yi ("Dragon Wife's Robe"), a ceremonial robe worn by a female during funeral processions. I now have a name for this beautiful robe - a Longpo Yi. 
- Amanda Lensch

Reverse side of the waistcoat

The quilted waistcoat I am studying has a Hollywood connection. Now that makes me homesick! (I am from California).  It was purchased by a costume designer to possibly be copied for use in Bernardo Bertolucci’s film "The Last Emperor" in 1985.

- Anna Rolapp

Look for more of Something Unexpected, tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Something Unexpected - Day Two

Today, as I compared my robe to several other pieces at the IQSCM one particular thing stood out - color! Now both pieces - one garment, one more similar to a table runner - feature half square triangles that are hand pieced together. The unique thing is the use of similar colors of silk. Both pieces have orange, dark red, several shades of blue, green, gold, and a light tan. The combinations when set off by a navy ground or border are extremely striking. We know these two pieces come from different areas SW China and Tibet, but I think both makers chose their fabrics carefully, choosing what would be pleasing to the eye.

- Amanda Lensch

Chinese double-sided black work looks much like American counted cross stitch. It would require exceptional eye sight and nimble fingers.

Baby carriers are made by young girls before marriage. Some girls buy finished pieces at market and assemble them at home. Might be similar to a quilt kit?

- Ruth Walker

How amazing it was today to see an image in the book "Chinese Dress" (by Valery Garrett) of the Qing Dynasty’s Prince Chun II wearing a waistcoat, an "informal black hip-length jacket," that appears to be an exact match to the one I am studying from the IQSCM collections.

- Anna Rolapp

Is it a “Quilt”?

By definition a quilt is three layers hand or machined quilted together with a distinctive pattern of quilt stitching through all layers. Right? Well, what I discovered today is I’m working with an object that isn’t a quilt but the top layer of a Chinese bedcover or, to use the French word, a duvet cover.

http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/duvet (See “translations of “duvet”)

In the world of quilt research it’s important to agree on terminology. This piece would have a back fabric to form a pocket, then be filled with other warmth-adding materials, before it became a bedcover. But because the three layers are not stitched together, it’s not a “quilt!"

Is it a nice hand appliquéd object? Yes. Is there a foundation piece that the appliqué is attached to? Yes. So, technically, it is not a quilt. Right?

We must agree on our definitions before we can full research an object. Wow, a whole new world is right at my fingertips.

- Dottie Evans

Today's afternoon was spent comparing other textiles -- quilts or other things -- to our study pieces. Marin provided me with some of her own personal objects, brought home from her China travels -- a baseball-style cap, a bookbag, and a jacket, all from her travels in 1992 and she brought in a vest (adorable!) she purchased for her little boy during our May trip. She also sent me pictures from a quilt accessioned into the collection of the Denver Art Museum (DAM) in the early 1990s.

If you put images of all these pieces together, WOW! They all have a similar flavor. In fact two blocks in the study quilt and that of the DAM are as much alike as they could possibly be without being identical!!! WOW!

However, the most fun and interesting was taking a block from the recently acquired Bai Jai Bai quilt (my study piece), made in 2013, and comparing it with a block from the older Bai Jia Bei (“Hundred Families Quilt”) that we received from Xi'an Jiaotong University Art Museum. The older one was made approximately 30 years ago in the Chinese tradition for a new baby.

Setting these blocks side by side -- very different -- very much the same -- very interesting!! WOW WOW WOW!

- Cindy DeLong

Check back tomorrow for the results from Day Three of Something Unexpected.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Something Unexpected - Day One

Longpo Yi - “Dragon Wife’s Robe," made by the Yi people in
Malipo County, Yunnan Province, China, first half of the 20th Century.
International Quilt Study Center & Museum 2012.021.0001.

In my happy place studying this beauty all week! Look closely, you may be able to see a pattern in the blocks. What I originally thought were randomly arranged blocks actually have some semblance of order.  By looking carefully you can see that the first row of blocks do not have blue fabrics, yet the second row does. The third row does not have blue, continuing the pattern.

- Amanda Lensch

Quilt cover, maker unknown, made in Niujiang, Huanjiang, Guangxi, China,
Circa 1925-1975. International Quilt Study Center & Museum 2012.040.0003.

I’m a learner by nature. Give me input from reading, listening or doing and I’m in my element.

The quilt that I was assigned in class today was filled with Chinese folk art symbols. While we haven’t studied Chinese symbols in the classroom yet (that’s tomorrow’s lesson), I was excited to recognize some of the symbols as a result of reading parts of Nancy Berliner’s book “Chinese Folk Art: The Small Skills of Carving Insects”. We also completed a hands-on observation of our quilt this afternoon.

I look forward to listening and learning more about Chinese symbols tomorrow. What an adventure to go to China again (well figuratively anyway!).

- Dottie Evans

Baby Carrier, maker unknown, made in Guizhou, China, circa 1950-
2000. International Quilt Study Center & Museum 2011.026.0007.

 A Chinese “Snugglie.” All cultures must find a way to carry the baby!

- Ruth Walker

Pan Kai Li, Bai Jia Bai. Wang Jian Village, Shaanxi Province, China,
Dated 2013. International Quilt Study Center & Museum 2013.020.0001.

Our "blogging assignment" today was to write about something that surprised me about the Chinese object that was assigned to me for this week's work. I was there (lucky me!) when Dr. Crews and Marin purchased the object, on site, in Wang Jian Cun (village) last month. So, I've already examined it pretty closely -- one of the privileges Amanda and I enjoyed as research assistants!

Even so, I continue to marvel at this "bei jia bei" ("One Hundred Families") quilt, traditionally made for new Chinese babies. Many representations of the "five poisons" are stuffed and appliqued on the quilt to frighten away any evil forces, thus protecting the child. The Five Poisons are: Snakes, Centipedes, Scorpions, Lizards, and Spiders or Toads.

I have never seen this technique before and we actually have a video of the woman demonstrating making these for us! Way COOL!
- Cindy DeLong

Waistcoat, maker unknown, made in China, circa 1880-
1900. International Quilt Study Center & Museum 2011.020.0001

The object I am studying is a black silk satin waistcoat. It appears to be a uniform of some sort; there is a mark where a label of some sort used to be on the inside below the collar. The surprise elements are the thirteen heavy gold/brass exquisitely carved buttons that add an elegant touch to the garment. 
- Anna Rolapp

Check back tomorrow for more of Something Unexpected.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Something Unexpected

By Marin Hanson
Curator of Exhibitions

Today at the IQSCM, we start a one-week course titled, "Asian Patchwork and Quilting: Folk Art/Religious Art."

Although we'll be learning about and viewing pieced and quilted objects from all over Asia, China will be the main focus for the course. In fact, each student will be assigned a Chinese patchwork or quilted object to examine, document, and interpret during the course of the week.

Along the way, they will share "Something Unexpected" with you, our "Pieced in China" readers. Every day, each student will post a brief observation and a picture of an aspect of their object that they found particularly interesting or unexpected.

We hope you enjoy this sneak peek of students in the process of learning about Chinese patchwork and quilting!

Marin Hanson is the Curator of Exhibitions at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She holds undergraduate degrees from Grinnell College and Northern Illinois University and earned her MA in museum studies and textile history with a quilt studies emphasis from UNL. She is currently pursuing doctoral research on cross-cultural quiltmaking practices, with particular emphasis on China and the United States.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Just because our research trip is over...

By Marin Hanson
Curator of Exhibitions 

... does not mean we won't be continuing this blog!

Researching and building a Chinese patchwork and quilt collection is a major focus at the IQSCM, so we intend to keep talking about everything we're doing related to China. In fact, on Monday, June 24, some of our Quilt Studies graduate students will begin blogging about our one-week summer seminar, "Asian Patchwork and Quilting: Folk Art/Religious Art."

In the meantime, you might want to check out my other blog: 100goodwishesquilts.blogspot.com. This is where I (periodically) write about my PhD research, which is focused on quilts being made today for children adopted from China (One Hundred Good Wishes Quilts). There are fascinating connections between what we're doing here on "Pieced in China" with One Hundred Good Wishes Quilts -- so go check it out!

Marin Hanson is the Curator of Exhibitions at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She holds undergraduate degrees from Grinnell College and Northern Illinois University and earned her MA in museum studies and textile history with a quilt studies emphasis from UNL. She is currently pursuing doctoral research on cross-cultural quiltmaking practices, with particular emphasis on China and the United States.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Our Last Day

By Marin Hanson
Curator of Exhibitions

On our final day in China, we went to two more antiques markets in the hope that we might find some patchwork. We knew it was a long shot, and in the end we hardly saw any textiles at all.

One market, however, was right outside the gates of Ba Xian An, Xi'an's Daoist Temple. It was a beautiful temple, and very well cared for.

Some old folks were practicing some tai ji quan under the shade of ginkgo trees and many people were there to pray and burn incense -- it was quite peaceful.

The other market we went to had dozens of stalls, but many of them had exactly the same things. We did a little souvenir shopping, but overall it was disappointing that they had no textiles.

But none of this takes away from the overall success of our research trip. We will be leaving China tomorrow with so many wonderful experiences under our belt. Most importantly, we now have a greater understanding of not only what patchwork from this part of China looks like, but who makes it, and how and where they make it.


Further, we now have an idea of what kinds of research questions we may want to pursue in the future and we have a fantastic partner to work with as we move forward, the Art Museum at the Xi'an Jiaotong University.

Cheers from Xi'an! You'll hear more from us later this week.

Marin Hanson is the Curator of Exhibitions at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She holds undergraduate degrees from Grinnell College and Northern Illinois University and earned her MA in museum studies and textile history with a quilt studies emphasis from UNL. She is currently pursuing doctoral research on cross-cultural quiltmaking practices, with particular emphasis on China and the United States.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

This 'n That

By Cindy DeLong
UNL Graduate Student

Marin and Amanda meeting at the Coffee House.
Yesterday we had nothing on the schedule, which was good because it was raining. Later in the day Dr. Crews and Marin were giving lectures at the American Exchange Center at Xi'an Jiaotong University, so they had preparation time this morning. We really couldn't go anywhere because the traffic in Xi'an is so bad that if we did, we might not get back in time.

Traffic. It's something else here. I have seen lots of traffic, but never anything like this, except, of course, in Beijing a week ago. And I have never heard so much honking. At first I thought the cars were honking at each other to express anger or say "get out of my way." That's not the case. They honk to warn other cars that they are there and to watch out for them. Here they also have street cars, buses and lots of people on motorcycles, scooters, bicycles and any other type of vehicle you can imagine. 

There must be some order to how people drive in this city, but heck if I can tell what it is. It is legal, and normal, to turn left from the far right hand lane. Go figure. Cars cut in front of each other constantly. The drivers have some sort of built-in instinct or antennae so they know EXACTLY how close they can get to another car without hitting it. 

These Xi'an streets are the most chaotic I have ever seen. For example, the side street next to our hotel has parking on both sides of the street. But people double-park all day long. The other day, there were almost as many cars double parked as those parked along the curb! In addition to the vehicles and bicycles driving, changing lanes, and turning every-which-way, there are lots of pedestrians crossing the street. Venturing outside anywhere near the street is truly taking your life in your own hands. The odd thing is that we haven't seen any accidents. Very strange.

Since we had some free time this morning, Marin, Amanda and I decided to go to a local coffee house for a cup of brew. It was very good. (The coffee at the hotel is reeeally bad.) We were able to wind down a little and "regroup." We reviewed some of our pictures, which of course sparked conversation and recapping of some of our adventures. We are all charmed by the Chinese children. They are adorable.  

It's a good thing menus have pictures.
There are a few more things about our dining adventures I have to share. First, napkins are optional. Sometimes you simply don't get one and if you do it's more like a cocktail napkin than anything else. I haven't seen a single dinner napkin since we've been here. Instead of ice water, the restaurants serve hot water in a glass they've taken from a thermos. I think it's been boiled so it's safe to drink. I am actually enjoying this new drink and will probably continue with it when I get home. 

Something else a little different is the way they serve the food. In the U.S., restaurants serve the entire order at once. Not here. Food is served as it is prepared in the kitchen. So I might have my food before everyone else. I guess I'm expected to eat it when it arrives, but since food is family-style, everyone just digs in. I'm puzzled. It's a little different.

The other night we went to a place up the street to have noodles. We saw a woman picking up a carry-out order. Yes, it was in a Chinese box just like at home. Well at least something's the same. 

Dumplings and Steamed Buns...ummumm GOOD!

Steamed Buns and Plum Juice.

A very common dish here is a dough that is stuffed with different things -- vegetables, spinach and egg, shrimp, beef, etc. The dumpling is then steamed until it's done. A steamed bun is the same thing except it's pinched at the top instead of folded. These are delicious, just yummy. Yesterday for lunch we had nothing but a variety of different kinds of steamed buns, and a couple of vegetables dishes. It was a great lunch and we had all we could eat. For seven people the bill was 164 RMB -- about $4 each.

That reminds me, we drink bottled water of course. We can buy it is a quick shop for 2 RMB which is about 35 cents. At the grocery store, water is 1 RMB.

Today, we're taking the bus to the Muslim Quarter. Wish us luck!

Cindy DeLong is working on a master's degree in textile history with an emphasis in quilt studies at UNL. She has a bachelor of sciences in home economics (clothing and textiles) and journalism from the University of Missouri. She has worked at the New England Quilt Museum as a curatorial intern and the International Quilt Study Center & Museum as a collections intern.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Rainy Day Fun

By Amanda Lensch
UNL Graduate Student

Today was a calm day. It was the first time we didn’t rush off right away and bounce from one thing to the next all day long. And I think we all appreciated the little bit of downtime to simply regroup from our whirlwind adventure.

Although, Marin and Dr. Crews couldn’t rest much since they each gave a presentation this afternoon at the American Exchange Center at Jaiotong University! Both were well attended and Marin and Dr. Crews did a fantastic job. Of course we would expect nothing less!

Marin spoke about what we do at the IQSCM, and Dr. Crews gave a lecture on Nebraska Quilts and Quiltmakers. Each lecture was translated into Chinese so our friends could easily understand. They had some extremely insightful questions about quilts as well as the work we do at the end of each one. All in all, I would say a very successful day!

As it rained all day today, we were extremely thankful for this relatively tranquil day as tomorrow will be another story.

Stay tuned!

Amanda Lensch is working on a master’s in textile history with an emphasis in quilt studies at UNL. She has a bachelor’s degree in apparel merchandising, design and production with an emphasis in museum studies and a minor in entrepreneurial studies from Iowa State University. She is a graduate assistant working in collections at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum and previously interned at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Ky., and Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

A Budding Alliance

The ancient history exhibition.

By Cindy DeLong
UNL Graduate Student

One of my favorites from the folk art exhibition.
Last Monday, soon after we arrived, Dr. Crews, Marin, Amanda and I met Professor Li, Vice Director of the Xi'an Jiaotong University Art Museum. He introduced us to some of his graduate students and gave us a tour of the museum.

We finished the tour yesterday. We were all quite impressed. The museum building is new and beautifully done. There is lots of exhibition space and a wide variety of different subjects are on display. 

The upper level of the museum has a large exhibit of calligraphy. Huge displays cover the walls. It is elegant! We toured the permanent exhibit of ancient historic objects including urns, figurines and tools. A very exciting and colorful Chinese Folk Art exhibit is also permanent. It was flat out fun! A new opera exhibit displayed exotic costumes, puppets and head pieces among other objects. Still two other galleries exhibited photographs and ceramics by a well known Chinese artist. 

We were given a tour of museum offices, the conservation laboratory, and the photography studio. Then we were treated to a short demonstration of some of the technology they are planning to use for visual presentations. We wore 3D glasses and saw a short movie clip. The basic idea is to take museum visitors to the archeological dig sites through the magic of technology. Although not developed yet, this is an important project to the Jiaotong University Museum.

Aren't we cute in 3D glasses?!?

See why we were impressed? 

After this wonderful tour, Professor Li invited us to a sitting room for an informal meeting. He suggested that his museum and ours form a partnership for research and exhibitions. The idea of trading exhibitions was tossed around and agreed to in general, although many, many details will have to be worked out as well as funding. Supporting and sharing research and possibly hosting scholars was also agreed to in principal, although the details and funding would have to be worked out for that too. 

Professor Li visited our campus in Nebraska in 2007 and toured the International Quilt Study Center then. Now we have visited his museum. Also, Marin has exchanged emails with Jack, Professor Li's assistant for a long time. We've developed a good relationship for many years and now with our visit to Xi'an, it seems everyone is comfortable with each other and would like to build a more formal relationship. It is an exciting and a wonderful outcome from this long-anticipated visit!

Cindy DeLong is working on a master's degree in textile history with an emphasis in quilt studies at UNL. She has a bachelor of sciences in home economics (clothing and textiles) and journalism from the University of Missouri. She has worked at the New England Quilt Museum as a curatorial intern and the International Quilt Study Center & Museum as a collections intern.