Monday, July 27, 2015

Puzzling Evidence - Exhibition Prizes Awarded to the Lao Tian Li 老天利, Decheng 德成 (De Xing Cheng 德興成) Chinese Cloisonne景泰蓝 Ateliers

Frequently encountered when trawling the Internet looking for information on Chinese cloisonné ateliers such as DeCheng and Lao TianLi are statements about awards won at the international exhibitions held in 1904 in St. Louis and 1915 in San Francisco; but, pictures of the actual pieces and their award medals and certificates seem impossible to find.  However, thanks to digital publishing, historic records of these exhibitions can be searched to produce interesting bits of information about who exhibited and what they exhibited, and how prizes were awarded.

China: Catalogue of the Collection of Chinese Exhibits at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St.Louis 1904 is one such resource.  It is available in an Internet Archive digital edition that is wonderfully easy to use; the pages can be turned as if reading a book, or by using the slide bar at the bottom, or searched via key words (I simply used the word “cloisonné” in the search box).  It contains much other fascinating information about Chinese culture circa 1900 besides cloisonné, but we’ll stick to the subject here.

Pages 54-56 [use the slide bar] list the “Modern Cloisonnes” that were exhibited – an astonishing variety of objects from vases to umbrella handles.

Pages 56-57 contain a description of the process of cloisonné manufacture. I found it interesting to contrast the techniques with those used in contemporary cloisonné factories and workshops, and to note that gilding with electroplating (“an ordinary galvanic process”) was in use instead of - or perhaps as well as -mercury gilding.  

Also of note, for those interested in late Qing cloisonne, is this statement about the effort to produce quality work:

"The manufacture of cloisonne at Peking has revived during the past thirty years, and the Peking Industrial Institute is paying special attention to this art, which it hopes to bring up to the standards of the old enamels of the Ming dynasty and the period of the Emperor Ch'ien Lung."

Page 222 seems to contain a reference to the origin of  openwork cloisonné (where the background between the design elements is not filled in with enamel, giving a raised effect that is often confused with champlevé).  The writer lists two items, a Qianlong vase and a DeCheng plate:

6. “Kien Lung" Cloisonné Vase.  This perfect specimen of the best Chinese Cloisonné of the “Tsing” Dynasty, 1736-1795, was among the treasures of the “Yuan Ming Yuan” or Summer Palace in the early sixties. The shape is very original, and all the coloring most harmonious.
7. Cloisonné Plate. This specimen is in absolute contrast.  It is in the newest type of raised cloisonné, executed by the well known firm of Te Cheng at Peking.

Perhaps the "TeCheng" plate was similar to this piece? [which may or may not be a more recent production - readers, feel free to comment and express an opinion]

Readers might want to compare this plate with this one that features a DeCheng stamp and paper label. Is the lighter rectangle on the brass base evidence of a similar former label?

Observe how the lack of backqround enamel creates the appearance of champleve.
Pages 333-334 list a variety of cloisonné objects “Exhibited by Kwong Cheong Tai – Canton, Original Objects of Art Workmanship,” followed by a few mentions of cloisonné table tops in furniture.  Other cloisonne exhibitors are listed in various places (remember the keyword search function).
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The 5-volume history of the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibit in San Francisco can be found at Internet Archive and Google Books:

The Story of the Exposition: Being the official history of the international celebration held at San Francisco in 1915 to commemorate the discovery of the Pacific Ocean and the construction of the Panama Canal, by Frank Morton Todd.

Volume 1 at the Internet Archive features a photo of Chinese cloisonné in the Palace of Fine Arts on page 30, with accompanying text description of the Chinese exhibit starting on the previous page.

Volume 3, page 287, chapter LIV, The Forbidden City, describes the Chinese effort at the exhibition. 

In contrast to the 1904 St. Louis exhibition, by this time China was no longer ruled by the Qing dynasty.  The author enthusiastically starts the chapter:

"Her entry into the Panama-Pacific International Exposition was the first official revelation of modern China to the modern world.  At previous expositions the Chinese exhibits have been made under the direction of the Maritime Customs Administration, a bureau largely composed of foreign officials which generally collected the material in the treaty ports and took or sent it to the exhibit palaces.  The year 1915 saw the manifestation of a different spirit, a decision to participate as a nation, on a basis of Chinese nationality.  It was the first time China had so officially participated in any exhibition outside her own borders, and she showed in her pavilion and throughout the exhibit palaces a revolution in ideas and ideals – the tremendous intellectual turnover of a vast empire."

The whole chapter is rather quaint reading. “The 56 models of pagodas,” for example, likely refers to the awesome Tushanwan Pagodas.

The Tushanwan woodcarvers also made China’s ceremonial gate at the 1915 exhibit.  Don’t miss clicking the link to read Adam Minter’s article, it’s a fascinating bit of history.

Who exhibited?  Starting on page 82, The Official Catalogue of the Palace of Fine Arts, Panama-PacificInternational Exposition, lists the cloisonne works in the Chinese section.

Cloisonné exhibitors on the list are Pao Hua-leo, Teh Hsin-chen (De XingCheng), Teh Chang (De Cheng), Yang Tien-Li, and Lao Tien-Li (Lao TianLi). What I understand to be contemporary Pinyin renderings of three of the names are in parentheses.  All sorts of mysterious things are listed.  Noticing item No. 71 for Teh Hsin-chen, a “Dragon-handled Sprinkling Pot,” I wondered if it was something such as these openwork ewers:
An openwork ewer with DeCheng characters bottom stamp.
The site featuring this ewer also cites a similar dragon ewer, no. 140, in Beatrice Quette's book, Cloisonne: Chinese enamels of the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties.

The flyer described in the post on DeXingCheng states that the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915 was one of the exhibitions in which the firm was awarded gold and silver medals together with diplomas.


I wondered why, in the Panama-Pacific list of exhibitors, awards are listed in italics under the names in many other categories - such as porcelain, lacquer, stone, and glass - but none in the cloisonné section? 


"These juries were composed of men of renown; such authorities and masters of craft as … C. Y. Yen of China in the field of the Fine Arts;"

 Mr. Yen appears in the group photo of the Superior Jury, the decision-making group for the awards. 

Wading through the complete chapter is a bit of a slog, as it goes into detail about how the juries were selected and points awarded, as well as the levels of awards – bronze, silver, gold, and the highest, the medal of honor.  Grand Prizes were the best exhibits in their class. Diplomas of honorable mention were also awarded, without a medal. The author states, 

“There were 25,527 awards, involving the issue of 20,344 medals and 25,527 diplomas.”  And, “The work of issuing the diplomas and medals occupied the Secretary of the Award System and six assistants for more than two years after the close of the Exposition.”

So the Chinese cloisonné medals from the 1915 San Francisco exhibition remain a bit of a puzzle. 

Susan’s Weber’s chapter in Beatrice Quette’s Cloisonné: Chinese enamels from the Yuan,Ming and Qing Dynasties is an impressively researched piece on how the great public exhibitions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries inspired collectors worldwide – wealthy connoisseurs, public museums, humble department store shoppers - to develop a taste for Chinese cloisonné.  Weber’s selection of photos is superb.  She covers not only collectors in Britain, France, and the United States, but Germany, Hungary, and Russia as well.  It’s an awesome piece of documentation – 33 difficult-to-find pictures, 6 pages of bibliographic citations at the end.  Above examples of original publications give some idea of the type of research swamp Weber had to wade through to assemble her article, providing yet another reason for anyone interested in Chinese cloisonné to rush out and get a copy of Quette’s book. 

A glimpse of what these exhibitions were like can be seen in the quaint stereoviews collected at The Hillman Stereo Archive.

UPDATE: An example of the mix of information about Lao TianLi's pieces exhibited in 1904 and 1915 can be seen in this Chinese site, featuring a pair of vases with a Lao TianLi export style base stamp, and a reference to a "Baoding stove" 宝鼎炉 - Google Translate's phrase for the name of an impressive incense burner.  The author of the auction listing says, 

In 1904, Lee made ​​God "Baoding stove" won the first prize at the Chicago World's Fair in 1915 and re-award the Panama Pacific International Exposition. Heaven Lee facility is located Po Temple Street, foreign built, and more products for export, are printed on the base "God benefit system" Ming paragraph.

The 1904 exposition was in St. Louis, not Chicago.  The Qing government did not officially participate in the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition, although wealthy Chicago Chinese did organize exhibits.  You can read some very interesting accounts of the Chicago fair at the Chinese-American Museum of Chicago website.

Doing a Google search for 宝鼎炉 resulted in this image:
The Chinese article in which it appears is about cloisonne artist Li Peiqing at a December 2012 charity event, and the photo caption states that it is a Lao TianLi work that won a gold medal at the "Panama World Expo" 100 years ago.

The listing for the 1915 San Francisco Panama-Pacific exhibition quoted above does not include an incense burner under the works by Lao TianLi, only "Rich Colored Vase" and what I am guessing are tripod portrait frames.

What is the actual source for this photo?  Is it a piece now held in the Palace Museum?  Does anyone know?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Puzzling Evidence - Chinese Cloisonne Lotus Pond Vase from L. S. Ayres & Co. Indiana Department Store

A recent post featured a lotus pond vase with a Lao Tian Li stamp on the base.  Here is another vase in the lotus pond theme, this time featuring a price sticker from L. S. Ayers & Co. and a "China" export stamp.
The U.S. Mckinley Tariff Act of 1890 required all items imported into the United States to be labeled with the country of origin.  This stamp looks a bid haphazard, perhaps made using individual lead letterpress blocks from a printer's shop.  In 1920 a tariff act revision required the words "Made In" as well on country of origin labels.
A comparison of the Lao Tian Li vase and the L.S. Ayres vase.
The Wikipedia article on the L.S. Ayres  department store states:

L. S. Ayres and Company was an IndianapolisIndianadepartment store founded in 1872 by Lyman S. Ayres. Over the years its Indianapolis flagship store, which opened in 1905 and was later enlarged, became known for its women’s fashions and Tea Room, holiday events and displays, and the basement budget store. 

One of the L.S. Ayres buildings is in the National Register of Historic Places.

The 1933 Shure Catalog page of Chinese cloisonne pieces features a lotus pond vase:
Vase second from left on bottom row displays a lotus pond theme.  As the catalog's date is 1933, the Chinese merchandise might well date from the 1920s-early 1930s, if only accounting for production, shipping, catalog engraving and publishing time.
The L. S. Ayres vase thus seems likely to be a representative example of Chinese cloisonne export wares made for the U.S. market in the decades surrounding World War I and the Great Depression (1890-1930).


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Puzzlng Evidence - Characteristics of Cloisonne Works by Lao Tian Li 老天利 - Floral Designs

A comment in a recent post about a lotus pond vase with a Lao Tian Li signature raised the question, "How can you tell if a piece is by Lao Tian Li without relying on the signature?"

This is, of course, the crucial question in attributing any kind of artwork to a specific artist or atelier.  So by way of example, I've pulled some signed Lao Tian Li pieces from my picture files that feature similar compositions and floral designs:
Note the peculiar bracket-shaped veins in the leaves, and the spiky symmetrical chrysanthemum petals.


The next picture shows the full view of this vase.



This vase was the topic of a discussion at the Asian Arts Forum.
An unsigned vase displaying the distinctive style of flowers and leaves seen in the examples above, but with a heavier rim and more abbreviated collar and foot motifs that seem more characteristic of the 1920s-30s.
  A piece from the Lao Tian Li studio, or not?  What's your opinion?  
UPDATE: Scrollwork at the top, but not filled in with different colors from the background - another abbreviated feature.

UPDATE: A somewhat similar pattern in a vase pair displayed on a Chinese website.  The signature stamp seems to be similar to that used on the lotus pond vase featured in a previous post, perhaps used in the 1920s or later.




Sunday, July 12, 2015

Puzzling Evidence - Rare Antique Chinese Cloisonne Red-Crowned Crane 丹顶鹤 Beads

A previous post discussed the changes in how the red-crowned crane has been depicted in Chinese cloisonne.

Recently these two pairs of little beads turned up:




Oddly, the bead in the upper left features what looks like a tiny handmade screw or headpin patching a hole just above and to the left of the existing hole.
Glass enamels have to be formulated to adhere to specific metal substrates - glass that will stick to silver can't be used with copper, for example.  The enamels in these beads seem to be the type that requires a silver base - whether silver plate works as well as solid silver, I don't know.  These mostly transparent enamels show up on the twisted wire cloisonne used in Chinese court necklace beads, as well as on small boxes, dishes, and servant bells that seem to date from the decades around 1900.  The metallic white of a pure silver background allows the colors to shine clear and bright.
The pine tree, swirling clouds with red sun, green hill with grassy shoots and a pond, all match the iconography of the beads.


Design is created by repuosse engraving on the reverse side.  Dish is small, about 3" in diameter.




What I think makes these small dime-sized beads particularly rare is that design is rendered not with the more usual repousse technique or with twisted wires, but with tiny wires thinner than horsehair.  My guess is that the wires were bent in pairs, hence the symmetry in the designs for each pair. The positioning and size of the holes seems careless and awkward, which is too bad considering the level of skill it took to create the tiny cloisonne designs.

The beads were on what appeared to be hand-made eye pins, which I removed.  I wondered if the beads had originally been made for a Chinese person, and then got recycled into a necklace tailored to foreign taste, such as this piece that seems likely to be from the 1930s:




Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Puzzling Evidence - Deco Chinese Charm Jewelry 1930s: Miriam Haskell? Helen Burton's "The Camel Bell" Shops?

Last year I acquired this necklace:
The clasp is stamped "CHINA."  The links feature small cabochons of coral, lapis, and turquoise.
The large cinnabar bead near the center had not aged well, and looked disgusting, I thought. 
Another blog post is in the works about these old cinnabar beads.  Stay tuned.
So I located some cinnabar beads of about the same size and replaced the damaged bead.
The "guri" carved lacquer bead on the right looked the best, but it's an expensive bead and I didn't want to cut it away from the nice knotting.  The bead second right matched in size, so I used it.  The cinnabar seems a bit bright, but the original bead was probably a bright vermilion as well.  I figure the next owner of this necklace can darken the lacquer if she wants to.  
Then the owner of eBay shop Beads With A Past emailed me with pictures of a fabulous necklace she'd recently acquired:




My photo files produced more examples of jewelry using similar beads:



I replaced the corroded cloisonne bead on this bracelet.
Similar filigree links
More examples of that deteriorated cinnabar
What to make of all these?  They seem to be strictly Chinese designs from the Deco era.  Were they products of a workshop that perhaps supplied Helen Burton's "Camel Bell" shops in the Peking Hotel and the ship Empress of Britain during the 1920s-30s?  Were they the inspiration for pieces attributed to Miriam Haskell?  Or were they commissioned by Haskell from a Chinese workshop? Puzzling evidence.

UPDATE: A few more examples in a later post.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Beads Traded for Slaves vs Pacific Northwest "Russian" Blue Glass Fur Trade Beads

Sorting through my collection of trade beads recently, I observed that the very largest of my so-called "Russian" trade beads all have 7 sides.  Beads of this type were used in the 19th century slave trade as well as in the North American fur trade, particularly in the Pacific Northwest.
Beads probably from the African trade, from the Pacific Northwest, and from the African trade.  About 13x13mm in size.  The upper strands are transparent uniform dark cobalt blue, the lower lighter blue strand has 3 layers of glass.  The light blue strand displays glass decomposition, most likely from burial in earth, and was collected in Africa by Michael Heide.
Beads closely resembling the long beads on the right appear on a 19th century sample card in the British Museum with a hand-written label, "Beads used in the African Trade for Slaves."  Dark blue beads similar to the strands on the left also appear in the right column of the sample card, but are smaller and have 6 sides. 
Dainty beads that appear to closely match those on the "Traded for Slaves" sample card (see below)


Various colors of blue, comparing Pacific Northwest beads with strands from Africa.  With the exception of the lowermost steely blue strand of beads, the African beads display a layered structure, with translucent glass overlaying a bright opal or opaque blue commonly called "Dutch" blue.  The Northwest Coast beads are often 7-sided, the African beads are smaller in diameter and usually have 6 sides (but not always - the two dark sapphire strands upper middle are strung on African raffia and have 7 sides).  The darker blue Pacific Northwest beads are a uniform color, but the lighter blue beads display a core of "Dutch" blue.  6-sided beads with multiple layers, as well as monochrome beads, have also been recovered at the Fort Vancouver fur trade post archaeological site in Portland, Oregon and elsewhere along the Pacific Northwest coast. (see PDF)
There's a fair amount of bead collector lore about these beads, including the usual heavy crust of confusion and misinformation that accumulates around antique objects.  So I did an internet trawl, and collected my notes and pictures into a Powerpoint document, available as a PDF for those interested.  This isn't a spiffily formatted presentation, but perhaps you will find it informative, as it contains pointers to books and online documents with in-depth research.

BeadsTraded for Slaves vs Traded for Furs

Those interested in extensive pictures of the varieties of these "Russian" beads can find an awesome online exhibit at the Picard Museum.

UPDATE: Found an online version of the British Museum Levin cards at ezakwantu.com.  I've circled the beads resembling those discussed above.