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The ancient art of wood block printing

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:24 | By Anonymous (not verified)

In the past week, we've had the chance to visit two places where the focus is on preserving and maintaining the ancient tradition of Chinese woodblock printing.  Since at least the Tang dynasty (almost 2000 years ago), the Chinese have used woodblocks to print documents, books, posters and images--a much more efficient process than hand-drawn calligraphy for producing multiple copies.  While the creation of the woodblocks themselves is just as laborious, the block can then be preserved and used for centuries if properly stored.

The China Block Printing Museum in the city of Yangzhou (yong jo) was founded in the 1950s, but moved to a beautiful new purpose-built museum just a few years ago.  It shares the building with the Yangzhou Museum and is based to 300,000 woodblocks amassed by the Guangling Press of Yangzhou.  The displays include woodblocks, books produced from the blocks, information on the printing process, and an impressive open storage area housing the blocks themselves. 

Downstairs in an atrium, under a skylight, the Museum presents ongoing demonstrations of the woodblock process.  The entire process requires about 18 steps--we saw 5 steps.  On thin vertically lined paper, a man copied out the text to be printed, using extremely fine calligraphy.  Modern Chinese is written horizontally, left to right, just like Western text.  But traditional texts are still written top to bottom, right to left.  The paper is then pasted face down onto a woodblock.  Wild pear wood makes the best blocks.  They are very durable, but soft enough to take the ink.

The carver carves around each character until it is raised above the surrounding wood.  He carves out the vertical lines as well, so that they will print.  Watching him work was extraordinary (as was the calligraphy).  His hands were so deft as he did intricate work with a very sharp knife.  There is no room for error in this work, and takes years to master.

Once the block is completed, it is inked using a big stiff brush.  Ink is brushed liberally over the surface, then the printer lays a piece of paper on top of the block and rubs it several times with a wooden block padded by layers of large leaves.  The print is pulled off the block and set aside to dry.  Later the pages are collated, stacked, folded, trimmed, covered and hand-bound.

At the Jinling Buddhist Publishing House (aka Buddhist Canon Publishing House), an oasis in the middle of high-rise Nanjing, a small staff preserves this process at a living museum.  In a beautiful old compound, using blocks that are 150 years old, they continue to produce Buddhist texts using the traditional methods, which they feel are closer to the tenants of Buddhist practice.  The director gave us a wonderful tour, including a visit to the storage room where they keep 120,000 blocks, neatly organized by book.  We saw two women pulling pages off the woodblocks, taking less than 10 seconds to print each page.  A woodcarver was creating a new block to replace an old one damaged or lost.  And 9 women were collating, stacking, folding and binding the books, which are then sold to Buddhist sites around China (and the world).

Jinling is so important that the Japanese government paid to rebuild it after the Japanese occupation forces during WW II destroyed it.  And during the Cultural Revolution, the Communist Party stopped the destruction of the wood blocks by the Red Guard.  They are too important to the heritage of China even for those difficult times.  Even so, 30,000 blocks were lost.  The director estimates it would take 10 carvers 100 years to replace them.

These visits help bring alive an exhibition we are planning on the rise of commercial printing in China from the Ming and Qing eras.  We will be working with the museum in Yangzhou to bring people to Grinnell to demonstrate this process, and I now know how exciting it will be to add their expertise to our exhibition.

Why a bill proposed to sell Pollock's "Mural" is a bad idea

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:24 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Posted by:  Lesley Wright

State Rep. Scott Raecker, a Grinnell alumnus, has introduced a bill in the Iowa Legislature to sell a painting, Jackson Pollock's "Mural," owned by the University of Iowa Museum of Art in order to create a fund to pay for scholarships for art students.

Here is the letter I sent to Representative Raecker explaining why I think this is a terrible idea.

Dear Representative Raecker,

I am writing in response to your bill introduced in the Iowa House seeking to sell the Jackson Pollock masterpiece owned by the University of Iowa Museum of Art.  I am the director of the Faulconer Gallery at Grinnell College, and on the Advocacy Committee for the Iowa Museum Association.

While I applaud your desire to increase scholarships for the arts, I must protest your proposed method of funding. Selling off a painting that has been on view to countless generations of University of Iowa students, school children, visitors, and Iowa residents ever since it was given by Peggy Guggenheim would cut the heart out of the University of Iowa collection.  Collections are given by passionate donors—alumni and friends alike—but they are also shaped by the dedicated professional staff at the museum, who develop a strong core collection to best communicate with their audiences. The Jackson Pollock painting you seek to sell is part of the core art collection in Iowa.

Selling this painting to fund arts scholarships is akin to selling off a theatre building to support theatre students, selling playing fields to support athletic scholarships, or selling off science equipment to fund the science students.  It makes no sense and in fact sends a very mixed message:  major in the arts but expect no security for your school’s arts initiatives.

The University of Iowa  Museum of Art has a new director. From my meetings with him, I am impressed with his dedication to education, his vision, and his desire to spread art across the campus. He is also committed to working broadly with arts organizations across the state of Iowa.  Fighting to save the Pollock is a distraction and keeps him from doing the job he was hired to do.

The real value of Jackson Pollock’s Mural lies in the inspiration it provides to nourish creativity and to educate anyone who sees it. When my daughter was 4 years old, she learned to recognize Pollock’s work with this painting.  Grinnell students travel to Iowa City (and now Davenport) to see this masterpiece. A noted art historian visiting Grinnell from Morocco asked to visit the Pollock. It is that important and world-renowned, bringing distinction to our state.

 When our children live 250-300 miles from the nearest major metropolitan area, it behooves all of us at the state’s colleges and universities (as well as private museums) to expose our audiences to the very best art we can—be that from our regional artists, from national figures like Jackson Pollock, or from international artists. Iowa is integrally tied to the wide world, a fact we celebrate every day. I commend the University of Iowa for finding a way to keep the Pollock and other key works in their collection on view at the Figge Museum as a means of serving all the people of Iowa and who visit Iowa until such time as they can rebuild in Iowa City.

Finally, on a more practical note, a painting the size of Mural is difficult and expensive to transport and it endangers the work of art every time it is moved. Expecting owner to send the piece to Iowa every few years from wherever in the world it winds up is risky at best and almost impossible to enforce. It’s a well-intentioned condition of sale, but not a good one.

I am sure there are excellent ways to raise scholarship funds for students at our State universities. Selling Pollock’s Mural will have negative repercussions that far outweigh the cash benefits.  The value of art lies in the power of visual expression, the emotional response to a work, and to the stimulus to our imagination. The dollar value is paltry compared with the value of Pollock’s work to the human spirit. If we sell off the Pollock, we impoverish Iowa forever.


Lesley Wright, Director

Faulconer Gallery, Grinnell College  

Eating Chinese Breakfast

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:24 | By Anonymous (not verified)


Today is day 4 in Nanjing and we are beginning to know our way around.  We are staying in the Nanyuan Conference Center of Nanjing University, which is essentially the hotel for the school.  (For those of you who are former Nanjing fellows from Grinnell, we are not in the foreign scholars house, as it was full.)  Since this is a hotel, the rooms are not designed for a long stay. They are well appointed and comfortable, but not very big, so they have given us two rooms.  We use one as our bedroom and Don's study, and the other as my study and dressing room.  It works out quite nicely if one of us is up late or up early. 

The conference center provides breakfast with the room, so each morning we walk to a dining room and have our Chinese breakfast:  various spicy things that we don't eat, buns (plain or filled with pork or a sweet vegetable filling), rice with scrambled egg (which we both really like), pieces of corn on the cob, braised bok choy and other greens (which Lesley really likes), watermelon, and various sesame and other small sweets.  The drink offered is warm, unsweetened soy milk.  We usually have had tea in our room beforehand.  It's not our usual breakfast, but it's satisfying and interesting.

We have a number of people available to help us.  Don is hosted by the Art Department and one of the PhD students, Mr. Qian Bozhong, serves as his guide and translator for class.  I am hosted by the History Department.  Professor Luo translates for me in class, Miss Zhao Feng is the very able office assistant and all-around problem solver, and Miss Wang Li (or Lily) makes sure I get to and from class, and is eager to assist in any way she can.  The Office of International Cooperation has a another graduate student, Miss Shi Jia (whom we call Cici) who has helped us in all sorts of ways already.  Yesterday at the bank, where we set up bank accounts, was particularly memorable as she helped maneuver the bureaucracy. And of course Cong Cong and her staff, Melissa and Sophie, make sure all is running smoothly.

Like our Chinese breakfast, nothing is quite what we are used to, but everything is working pretty well.  We are finding our way to restaurants good and so-so in the neighborhood. We now have a cell phone, and hope to have money in our bank account soon.  And we have both taught our first classes.  Don's went smoothly, though it's disconcerting to lecture with translation and figure out a good rhythm.  My class started with a real tussle with technology but we finally began class without the images, and added them in later once some issues were sorted out.  I was really pleased to find I had at least 8 students willing to ask questions!  And there is a museology program here, connected with the archaeology department.  Neither of us is quite sure yet if we are hitting the right tone and level with our students, but we'll see how we feel on Day 2.

Grasping the Explosive Growth of China

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:24 | By Anonymous (not verified)



In the U.S., we often hear about the scale of projects and economic growth in China, but from a distance and with only our own scale of reference, it's difficult to grasp.  Even here in central Nanjing, with new skyscrapers and shopping malls under construction in seemingly every block, the feeling is similar to that of redeveloping areas in Chicago, or New York, or L.A.  It's impressive, but woven into the fabric of the energy of a city at perhaps a hyper-level from what we have come to expect.

In the morning, we walk up the the magazine kiosk on Hankou Lu and purchase a copy of the English language China Daily. Though we are careful to parse the prose and assume there are facts and shadings that we are not being given, The Daily does provide an intriguing window onto the scale of China.  In yesterday's paper, we learned that 505,000 people visited the Shanghai expo on Saturday (half a million people in one place in a single day)!  Now that's an attendance figure.  We plan to attend the Expo on our last day in China, though we approach it with some trepidation.  A more interesting article for us as Iowans was a long piece about the changing face of farming.  It began with an overview of Xinfadi, the wholesale produce, meat, seafood and seed market in Beijing, open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  As many as 80,000 people buy and sell pork, cabbage, rice, shrimp and the rest every day.  Supplying Xinfadi and other markets like it across China are 300 million farmers.  Think about that.  There are as many farmers in China as there are people in the U.S. (roughly). Of course, this is largely because most farms are tiny, one to ten acres, and are farmed by hand.  But the fact that they have the infrastructure to move products from all those places to markets of the scale of Xinfadi is astounding.

On Saturday, Don and I took a ride on the brand new #2 Line of the Nanjing subway. The line opened the day before and provides a much faster link between the Gulou campus of Nanjing University and the "new campus" where most of the undergraduates study and reside, out in the suburbs. Aside from a few glitches, the ride was great, we made some new friends with a quartet of preteens intrigued by the foreigners and eager to try their English, and we were knocked out by the army of people in every station to assist new riders.

The new campus is impressive, a brand new university that has sprung out of the ground with a stunning library and campus center, beautiful athletic fields, striking classroom buildings, and 8 enormous dormitory buildings. The campus map was a little confusing until we realized that the buildings to our east, under construction, were already marked on the map.  We figured we toured about a quarter of the campus, maybe, which spread north at some distance, and will soon double to the east. Faculty colleagues tell us they are building 3000 faculty apartments there to handle housing needs for faculty on both campus, housing being a major expense and problem in China these days.

The subway ride to the new campus is above ground about half the way. All along the tracks we saw enormous housing complexes under construction or newly built, linked by broad new boulevards, new parks, and new shopping centers. These apartment blocks might be 10 stories high and extend for 2 or 3 city blocks! Everything was instantly landscaped, with mature trees moved in and planted by the hundreds.  The scale of everything was huge, but was punctuated by empty lots sprouting with gardens and small farms, with plenty of people out wielding hoes and shovels as they carved out a spot to grow vegetables.

This glimpse of China beyond the Nanjing city walls really drove home the scale of the economic engine of China. Nanjing is a medium sized city in China. Population estimates range from 7 to 10 million, and now I understand how the figure can be so high.  This medium sized city is as big, or bigger than New York City, than Chicago, and it shows no signs of stopping its growth anytime soon.


Imbedded Art

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:24 | By Anonymous (not verified)


This week has been a flurry of activity at the Faulconer Gallery. Our summer exhibition came down on Monday, and the first of them shipped out Tuesday. By Friday, all four of the new exhibitions were on their way to completion. The walls had been repositioned and prepped. Artists were hard at work on creating site specific installations. Art was retrieved from storage and readied for hanging.

Meanwhile, Dan Strong, our associate director, alarmed by the news reports of potential qur’an (Koran) burnings and other hostile acts towards those who follow Islam, suggested that we debut a new acquisition we have as an act of compassion for our diverse community. In the week when Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan, we wanted a way to use art to spark positive and hopeful dialogue. By Thursday midday, we had contacted all the necessary parties and made the arrangements to present American Qur’an by Sandow Birk in the Smith Gallery of the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center at Grinnell College. 

Birk’s American Qur’an(http://www.grinnell.edu/faulconergallery/collection/birkaq3637) is his transcription in English of the Muslim holy book.  We own suras (chapters) 36 and 37 from the complete work. Birk’s paintings include the text inset into scenes from American life--fields, picnics, floods—a wide range of images drawn from early 21st century American life. His qur’an reminds us that all faiths are imbedded in American culture. The exhibition opened Friday, September 10 and will be on view for about 10 days.

Friday also saw concentrated activity on three projects for the upcoming exhibition Culturing Community: Projects about Place.Members of The Moving Crew, an artist’s collective with local members Jeremy Chen and Lee Running, worked with Grinnell College students to screen print dozens of unfolded boxes which will be used in their gallery installation Ideal X. Artists Marguerite Perret and Bruce Scherting, assisted by Jeff Ashe and Milton Severe, installed 4 skylight inserts glowing with images drawn from collections at Grinnell College. Along with art already on view in the Drake Community Library and art yet to be installed at the Faulconer Gallery, these pieces constitute their project Collect(ive): The Grinnell People’s Museum. Jane Gilmor worked in Faulconer Gallery to begin the creation of her large-scale piece about the history of work in Grinnell:  (Un)Seen Work: Traditions and Transitions.

All three projects have engaged a wide variety of people in their creation. In a sense, they have left the gallery to imbed themselves in the community, taking art from its museum confines and meeting people where they live. Though we are now bringing it back into the gallery, we hope to draw our creative partners along as well. We hope they now see art as a piece of them, and not as something disconnected.  The shows open September 24.

Hong Kong Day 1

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:24 | By Anonymous (not verified)


It's early on Friday morning, May 14, as I write, though it's still Thursday in the US.  We arrived yesterday evening right on schedule after a 14+ hour flight, which United informs us is one of their longest. We flew the polar route, almost due north over Canada and the west side of Hudson Bay, along the northern edge of the North American continent, still snow covered, but the water at the shore has melted for the season, and back over land at Siberia. Siberia was amazing--track-less, snowy, tundra, very hilly, with a huge river we followed for some time.  We were at 40,000 feet and it looked huge! Alas, we flew north to south over China but saw nothing--all clouds.

The Hong Kong airport is beautiful and spotless. Although it was 5:30 pm there was little traffic and our taxi whisked us to our hotel. We are on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong, right near the waterfront and across the street from the Cultural Center. We wandered over to the waterfront after we unpacked, trying to stay up for awhile so we could get on schedule. Across the water was a classic view of all the high rise buildings in Hong Kong, with lighted ferries zipping back and forth. At 8:00, the nightly light and music show started. Neon lights line the buildings on both sides and more lights and lasers are posted on the tops of the skyscrapers. In coordination with music on both sides of the harbor, the lights flash and dance for about 15 minutes.  Since it was a foggy evening, the effect was somewhat dampened, but we got the idea.

We then wandered off in search of dinner and landed on a place advertising sea food. We were served elegantly and had delicious grouper and sauteed clam strips. The clam came with unidentifiable orange items, which tasted like a sort of fish. I liked them, Don did not. 

Today is dawning foggy.  We go in search of art.

Mu Fu Art Gems

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:24 | By Anonymous (not verified)


Nanjing is not one of the biggest cities in China. Despite a population of over 7 million, it has a modesty about it.  The traffic though congested, flows along in a civilized way, a sort of ballet between cars, bikes, scooters and pedestrians. There are flashy shopping areas, but they aren’t enormous. Most everything is on a reasonable level, a human scale. Anything edgy or provocative is kept under wraps.

Given our interest in art, we have been perplexed by the lack of a contemporary art scene. The art faculty and students with whom Don associated at the University are deeply academic in their approach, with students copying the work of western old masters and their own teachers’ works in a version of an ancient Asian tradition of learning. The professors, though very well connected and supported, make art that is more akin to work from the first half of the 20th century than to anything of the 21st.  And neither students nor faculty seemed to have much of a handle on contemporary trends. We asked around about art to little avail. There is an art museum, but it is closed for reinstallation. The modesty of the city appeared to keep a lid on any alternative spaces—at least we never found them.  We got a glimmer of an idea of another world one evening when, on our way to a dinner, we passed the Nanjing Institute of Fine Arts.  We wondered what might be happening there.

On our last day in Nanjing, Cathy Zhang—translator, Chinese instructor at Grinnell, English instructor at Nanjing, and friend—took us for a farewell lunch of delicious light dishes, then whisked us off to see the studios of some artist friends. The taxi drove east, and drove, and drove, and drove, and got lost, and tried again, wound around small, almost rural streets, turned into a drive lined with graffitied walls topped by found art sculpture, came around a bottled water plant and stopped among some quiet disused factory buildings.  A sign said Nanjing Qinghe Current Art Center and there was a wonderful big open space for art—no one around, no art in sight. Cathy makes a phone call and dashes off down a drive. Soon she is calling us over to an open door and we step into a terrific artist’s studio.

Her friend Huang Jun makes large paintings of babies and children, painted in differing scales and degrees of finish. They are relentlessly individual and expressive, but also assertive and disturbing. He told us that he paints children because he doesn’t want to grow up. To grow up is to succumb to what the government wants for him and he’d rather not accept their view of the world. Huang Jun became our host and guide for a great afternoon of studio visits. Scattered throughout empty factory buildings are over 30 artists’ studios. We visited 8 or 9 painters in spaces intimate and vast. The quality of work was uniformly high and the artists clearly have a community of peers in this place they call MuFu.

Above all, we were struck by the quality of the painting. While the artists are clearly looking at everyone from Francis Bacon to Morandi, David Salle to Wayne Thiebaud, the work is not derivative but tackles a range of subjects with fresh energy. None of them was making abstract work.  Figurative painting predominated, laced with sentient animals and hybrid creatures. There were also effective still lifes, object studies and some terrific cityscapes.  We learned that many of the painters had recently been part of a group show in Shanghai, curated by Chris Gill, and we were given a precious copy of the catalog. Happily, a portion of the show remains on view in a Shanghai gallery. We made plans to see it.

By the end of our visit, cut short only by a previous engagement, we felt deeply relieved to know that contemporary art flourishes, albeit quietly, in Nanjing. All these artists are associated in one way or another with the Nanjing Institute of Art so it clearly is the creative hub of the city. Had we more time, we would have explored it with more intent. Alas, the artists of MuFu will soon have to move to a new location as the government wants their secluded factory buildings for commercial ventures. Or perhaps they are attempting to discourage the free-thinking of these artists. As another artist noted, he paints pain and anxiety in direct opposition to the government’s desire for peace, happiness and achievement. He prefers not to become one of the “happy animals in the zoo,” caged by the official view of reality.

We have lunch with Wu

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:24 | By Anonymous (not verified)


After days of hearing of all the accomplishments and accolades accorded to the esteemed Professor Wu, seeing his studio and examples of his work at Nanjing University, and anticipating the moment, we were invited to a luncheon on Friday with the man himself.  He had just returned from Hong Kong, where he received an honorary degree from Hong Kong University. Professor Wu is officially Don's host at Nanjing University, but his assistants, Mr. Chen and Mr. Qian (pronounced "chon") have being taking on the day-to-day tasks of working with Don on his course.  In fact, Mr. Chen is sitting in on the course, and Mr. Qian provides Don's translations.  Both Mr. Chen and Mr. Qian hold Professor Wu in the highest regard and tell us often of his awards and honors.

We were escorted through the studio and upstairs to Prof. Wu's private office, a lavish space filled with books, historical works of Chinese art, and photos and paintings of Prof. Wu.  We greeted Professor Wu, and met several other guests, including Deputy Director Dai Zhehua, who directs the Office of International Cooperation and Exchanges at Nanjing University, a visiting artist friend of Prof Wu's named Yishing, and Cong Cong, there to greet us but unable to stay for lunch.  We were served tea and exchanged gifts with Professor Wu.  There was a round of picture taking then we were off to lunch.

We surmise that Professor Wu is in his late 40s.  He was dressed all in an elegant black suit with a black shirt.  His hair is long and swept back and he carries himself with confidence, very much an artist at the peak of his profession and a consummate careerist.  He understands English but speaks it very little.  Mr. Dai and Mr. Qian did most of the translating at lunch.  Mr. Chen made sure the meal ran smoothly.  Professor Wu is now primarily based out of Beijing where he has been elevated from a professor to the director of the Institute for Arts and also to the head of the national sculpture academy.  He still serves Nanjing University but, as Mr. Dai noted, he's paid by Beijing!  In his national roles, he has a great deal of power to determine which artists and which sculptures are placed in cities all over China. 

This was our second banquet luncheon. Held in a private dining room, the guests sit around an elegantly set round table.  The courses--at least 10--are served individually one after another.  A plate of beautifully arranged hors d'oeuvres begins the meal (sliced beef, duck, mango, a tiny hard-boiled egg, shredded radish), followed by:  a soup of greens and rice noodles, another plate of sliced meat, a salad course, another soup, a dumpling, a fish dish in a yellow creamy sauce, a cabbage roll in a spicy chili sauce with a small stick of chocolate, a steak, another soup, and a dessert of watermelon, tomato and cucumber slices.  All the portions are small, but we have learned not to eat everything.  It's bad manners and we wouldn't make it to the end! 

Aside from conversation, the other main activity at the luncheon is rounds of toasting.  We had a frothy orange drink plus small glasses of a tasty but potent white liquor made from 5 grains.  There are both general toasts and periodic individual toasts.  I've made sure to offer at least one general toast each lunch.  Don thinks the individual toasts are offered whenever anyone wants to take another sip--no sipping without toasting! 

Professor Wu had to rush off at the end to give a speech to the local military academy.  We headed home in the rain, in need of a rest after lunch with Wu!

What we don't know about Sun Yat-sen

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:24 | By Anonymous (not verified)

This week, our host department, the Office of International Cooperation and Exchanges at Nanjing University, provide a full-day tour of Nanjing, complete with driver and guide.  Our guide was a Nanjing native, a 25 year-old masters degree candidate in Linguistics named Yuan Yuan, but who asked us to call her Vivian.  Most Chinese students whom we have met have an English name, which Vivian says they typically adopt in middle school as they are learning English.  So one of the students in my class, Wang Li, is Lily, another of our assistants, Jia Shi, is Cici, and our very capable program assistant, staff to our host department, Jiang Peiye, is Sophie. 

Our day began with a trip up Zijin shan, the Purple Mountain on the east side of Nanjing, to the Mausoleum of Dr. Sun Yat-sen.  Dr. Sun is referred to here as Dr. Sun Zhong-shan, and I'm still a little unclear if the difference is one of dialect, or if one of his names is a pen name.  The trip to the complex was beautiful.  Purple Mountain has been preserved as a green space, covered in woods, broken by ponds, gardens and bamboo groves.  There are walking paths all the way up the mountain.  At times, we could see that they included elaborate elevated walkways.  We've heard that people hike to the top in the early morning to see the sun rise.  There are a number of sites on the mountain, but in between it's wild and natural.  Dr. Sun's memorial starts with an area of tourist shops preceding the turnstile into the site. A large gate announces the entrance and from it stretches a long gradually climbing path followed by a series of 392 stairs, broken at intervals by terraces and a series of buildings.  The stairs become steeper towards the top and culminates in the tomb of the leader.  All the structures are topped with blue tiles, as blue and white were the colors of Dr. Sun's Nationalist party.

Vivian told us that Dr. Sun is greatly honored in China, and in Nanjing especially.  He established the short-lived Nationalist government in Nanjing, and is seen as the father of modern China. His Nationalists helped bring about the end of the Qing Dynasty, and competed with and at times worked with the Communists in the troubled years from 1911 to 1949.  While Dr. Sun is seen as a great man, there is far less love for Chiang Kai-shek, the Nationalist who took his party (and many treasures from the mainland) to Taiwan once the Communists came fully to power. 

The Mausoleum complex was swarming with tourists who stopped to read every inscription and have their picture snapped by friends and relatives. As far as I can tell, Chinese never take a picture without someone they know in it.  No straight scenery shots for them!  Later in the day, we also toured the former Presidential Palace, seat of the Nationalist government set on the site of a former Ming and Qing era palace.  Here we toured room after room detailing Dr. Sun's every movement for many years and keenly felt our lack of knowledge about this man and this period in Chinese history.  Only some of the labels were in English and it was hard to piece together the entire, complicated story.  We have resolved to find a book about these times and learn more about Dr. Sun.  The Presidential Palace was over run with even more tourists, many in tour groups who were literally running through one another as they passed from one place to another. Luckily, we found our way to a quiet garden and had a wonderful long talk with Vivian about her life.

We ended our day again at Fuzi Miao, toured the Confucian temple of the same name--a weird mix of traditional temple and kitschy statuary, very un-Confucian, and the Examination Hall.  In earlier times, to obtain a position as an official, a man would travel to Nanjing (or other large cities) to sit for a 9-day examination.  Locked into a tiny room, he would write essay after essay, eating and sleeping in his tiny space.  They have recreated a series of the rooms with figures and vignettes detailing some of who might compete for the positions and the rigors they endured which might include heat, cold, fire (and they were locked in!), snakes, and accusations of cheating.  As the evening wore on, the crowds seemed to swell in Fuzi Miao, and from a second floor restaurant, we watched the lights come up on the river (really, a canal) and the boats carrying tourists up and down.

Paper Trail

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:24 | By Anonymous (not verified)


Once upon a time, communicating took a great deal of work. Paper was made by hand, writing was done with a handmade pen and handmade ink, and every word was handwritten. Printing presses allowed for multiple copies, but early type was hand carved, hand-set and the pages of text were pulled by hand.  Nowadays in our so-called paperless society, children learn to print then go straight to “keyboarding.” Cursive writing is becoming a lost art—will we have to have special classes in creating a signature? Or will those unique scribbles of identity disappear as well?

In the Faulconer Gallery exhibition Kind Favor / Kind Letter (January 28 – March 20, 2011), three artists draw on the craft of papermaking, printing and handwriting to create an installation to remind us that human communication requires a human presence. Walking into the space feels like walking into a giant personal journal. Garlands of pressed leaves, of small notes, and of envelopes drape the walls. Lines of text, much of it from the lost language of short hand, embellish surfaces, as unreadable and beautiful as Arabic calligraphy. The title of the exhibition comes from two neighboring phrases from the Gregg Shorthand Phrase Book of 1902.

With its paper cutouts, its texts, and its sumptuous surfaces, Kind Favor / Kind Letter links our world of Blackberry text messages, Kindle readers, and online greeting cards to a much longer and older tradition where words were objects in themselves and the quality of the paper that carried them mattered to the sender and the receiver. We are now awash in words but we rarely stop to look at them. With this exhibition, the artists (Kate Carr, Tatiana Ginsberg and Lee Emma Running) request a kind favor of the viewer to stop and consider the kind letters that we all share.  As Kate Carr writes, “This exhibition is about connection—connections between paper and other materials and our connection to each other’s creative processes over time. The elements of this show (shorthand, handmade paper, letters, and garlands) are explorations of connections, both the literal and implied.”

We leave the exhibition calmed by the need to slow down and look carefully, but with a sense of impoverishment. For all the swirl of words, and indeed of paper, that surrounds us today, little of it is made with care and feeling. I wonder what we have lost in our thought process when the words can tumble out of a keyboard at lightning speed? If we don’t have to choose our words with care because of the effort to write them by hand, or to think about the limited space available on a special piece of paper selected from a limited supply, do we end up saying less?

Without a paper trail, how will future generations ever follow where we tried to go?