This afternoon, my friend, fiber artist Mary Norton, and I went to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art to see Everyday Luxury: Chinese Silks of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). We also attended a lecture entitled Hidden Meanings in Chinese Costumes and Textiles by Terese Tse Bartholomew, recently retired Curator of Chinese Decorative Art at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.
The textiles are rich and intriguing on their own (I was especially fascinated with the silk gauze robes), but to then learn of the symbolism encompassed in the decorations was to add another dimension to the appreciation of these complex and beautiful garments. Of course, the symbolism was so many-layered and extensive that keeping track of it all was impossible, but much of it related to prosperity, longevity, and especially the hopes and wishes for a happy marriage in order to produce many male children, wishes for the male child to go far in life and reflect well on the the parents, and to have his own male children. There was not one symbol for women except as a marriage partner to provide male children. While the women's robes in the exhibit were beautiful, the lecture really drove home, to me, how little value was placed on women during the Qing Dynasty in China.
My favorite symbols were the wish-granting clouds, wish-granting mushrooms and wish-granting sticks. I would very much like to get my hands on some of those!
The exhibit runs through February 17, 2008. I encourage my local readers to make a point of seeing it before it closes, it is well worth a winter's afternoon.