Lacquer painting at The National Olympic Sports Center

Updated: 23 Jun 2008
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On the wall in the center of the hall hangs a giant lacquer painting donated by Hao Bangyi, a noted contemporary Chinese artist. Showing rich details of Chinese ink and brush techniques, the painting is called Magpies Leap in the Plum Blossom. Magpie has traditionally been considered an auspicious bird that is supposed to bring good luck while the plum blossom symbolizes a tough spirit as the flower blooms in ice-cold winter. The painting done in pure gold foil, shell and gold powder is approximately 15 sq m. 

All these are part of the major decorations of the Honored Guests Hall in the National Stadium in Beijing. 

"I think it's a great honor to present my family art to the world," says Shen Jinli (first left), president of Youbide Lacquer Craft Company in Xiamen, Fujian province. 

Shen was offered by The National Olympic Sports Center (NOSC) in 2007 to take charge of the interior decoration of the Honored Guests Hall, which will be used to receive VIPs from home and abroad at the upcoming Beijing Olympic Games. 

Lacquer carving, is one of the famous fine arts of the southern province Fujian. The sap of lacquer trees is mixed with brick powder and spun into hair-like threads, which are then used to shape various patterns, such as dragons and phoenixes. This kind of art involves 27 procedures and has taken local craftsmen more than 10 generations to master and perfect. 

Shen, descendant of lacquer master Shen Shao'an of the Qing Dynasty, explains the craftsmanship involved by drawing an analogy with the human body. A light plank, or base, is expected to be wide and smooth, and can be likened to the bone of human beings; four layers of thin cotton cloth wrapped around the plank are like the muscles while the layers of lacquer powder stick to the cloth like skin, preventing the wood from splitting and rotting. The last step is the lacquer coating. 

From the heydays of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), this artwork has been a favorite of the well-heeled in southern Fujian province. 

As treasured as silk and china, lacquer carving used to a prized activity in ancient times. Unfortunately, it began to lose some of its appeal in the late 1990s. Even the largest lacquer craft company in Fuzhou, the capital city of Fujian province, went bankrupt. 

The 41-year-old Shen, who started learning the skill in her childhood, has been trying to revive this centuries-old art form. 

She has so far made more than 200 pieces, with a number of them winning national awards. This brilliant craft embodies the essence of the three great Chinese arts-Peking cloisonne enamel, Jingdezhen ceramic and Fuzhou bodiless lacquer ware. 

Besides her efforts to learn new techniques and improve her skills, Shen spends most of her time to promote the art around the country. 

"I see 2008 as an auspicious year for lacquer art, because it offers a great chance to demonstrate the art in the Bird Nest," she says. 

It took Shen and 500 workers one year to finish the lacquer screen. To perfect the design, Shen set up her Beijing office, and sought advice on literature and history from the Beijing Palace Museum, the Dunhuang Academy in Gansu province and the China Culture Relics Protection Foundation. 

By Cheng Anqi

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