A Legacy of Art

by Brian Jewell 1. March 2011 07:00

So far, I've written a lot about China's history, its imperial dynasties and how that heritage shows up in modern Chinese life. Today, though, we took a welcome break from history lessons to explore the Shanghai Museum, a free public institution that houses some of the best of Chinese artwork.

Beautiful art is among China's greatest contribution to the world, and the exhibits at this museum follow the development of various media from pre-history to modern times. One large gallery traces jade carving in China, from 3.000-year old simple ceremonial tools to elaborately carved jewelry worn by royalty in the early 20th century. A gallery on currency showed the fascinating artistic touches in ancient Chinese coins and more modern paper bills, and a clothing gallery highlighted the traditional costumes of many of the ethnic minority groups in the country.

Among my favorite were the painting and calligraphy galleries. There is an art form in Chinese writing that we in the West can little understand. Masters of calligraphy are considered artists here in China, and their best works are presented on long scrolls in the museum's display cases. Many of the paintings, also presented on scrolls, used black ink or soft water colors to create idyllic natural scenes reflecting the diverse beauty of the Chinese countryside.

Many visitors will also enjoy a visit to the porcelain gallery, which explains how Chinese craftsmen created a new kind of pottery that grew to become a world-famous art form. Some of the finest porcelain works on the planet are on display in this museum, and guests come to realize how fine porcelain pottery came to be known as "China" in the Western world.

Our group spent about an hour and a half in the museum, and at the end of that time, I found myself wishing for much more. If I ever find myself in Shanghai again, this museum will be at the top of my to-do list.

Ancient stone carvings in the sculpture gallery.

A world-class example of Chinese porcelain art.

A Tibetan ceremonial mask.

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Wonders of China

Art comes alive in St. Charles

by Brian Jewell 7. May 2010 06:57

Artwork takes on a whole new hue when you get to talk to the people who are creating it.

Today I visited St. Charles, a town in eastern Missouri known for it historic 1800s downtown and its association with Lewis and Clark's expedition. There's plenty of charm on the brick-lined streets, and many historic sites to visit. But the one that interested me the most was the Foundry Arts Centre.

Created as a railroad car manufacturing facility in the 1940s, the foundry later closed and sat dormant for years. In the 1990s and early 2000s, a community effort helped to turn the facility into an arts center with gallery space for artwork exhibition and studio space where local artists can work.

Today the Foundry Arts Centre is the cultural headquarters of St. Charles, hosting concerts, art shows, lectures luncheons and other events. The permanent galleries on the bottom floor host a series of changing exhibitions of work by local and regional artists. In the upstairs section, some 25 working artists have studios, where they can be found creating paintings, sculptures, fabric art, pottery and other art forms.

My favorite part of the visit was walking through the studios and meeting the artists who work there.  Two of them are retired art teachers who are pursuing their life passions now after decades in education. They explained the inspiration behind their work, and shared some of the processes and techniques they use to create painting and pottery that they love and that appeal to art buyers.

Meeting these guys helped me to put a human face on the artwork, and allowed to see the items in front of me through the perspective of their experience, creativity and passions. If you're only a casual art liker, a visit to the foundry just might turn you in to a bona fide art lover.


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