Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Road Trip

By Marin Hanson
Curator of Exhibitions

We started out the day with only a vague idea of how it would go.

Jack Zhang, assistant to the director of the Xi'an Jiaotong University Art Museum (our liaison for this research trip) told us we would be going to Baoji City -- located west of Xi'an -- to see where some local textile handicrafts were made. We thought it would be about a 1.5-hour drive. In the end, just getting out of Xi'an alone took about an hour! After 3.5 hours we got to the village of Dazhai, about half an hour north of Baoji.

Fortunately, it was completely worth the long journey.

We got to meet and spend several hours with the two coordinators of a local, textile-based cottage industry (at the front of this group picture).

These two women, along with over 100 other women from their village, produce a huge array of folk crafts that are eventually sold all over the country. The things they make (all by hand) are based on traditional Shaanxi objects-- things like tiger hats (to protect children from evil spirits), embroidered shoes, and decorative hangings.

But the item we were most interested in was the bai hua zhang, or "hundred flowers banner" (it isn't actually floral in design -- the "hundred flowers" name mostly expresses the concept of abundant imagery). The banner we saw had 104 different squares, each one embroidered by a different woman with scenes from Chinese folk tales and religion.

The squares were then pieced together into a large banner that would traditionally have been used as a hanging in a Buddhist temple. One of the goals of our trip was to see how Chinese textile traditions have evolved, how they are being expressed today. We realize that these traditions survive partly due to their close tie to the tourist market -- so to be able to see where these souvenir objects are actually being made -- by average women from a small village in Shaanxi! -- was informative and gratifying.

We also got to meet a 79 year old woman, Li Ai Jie, from a different village, who has received  many honors from the Shaanxi provincial government for her textile handicrafts.

We are very grateful to Professor Lu Xiaoning (pictured here with her) for introducing us to Mrs Li as well as to the women from the handicraft cooperative.

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.

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