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L.A. Beat

Galt Museum examines Chinese art techniques in new exhibit

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It’s a happy coincidence that within a few weeks of each other, there was a big fundraiser to help save the remaining buildings in Lethbridge’s Chinatown and The Galt Museum opened an exhibit exploring the art of China.
“It’s a combination of a traveling exhibit from the Royal Ontario Museum and a few objects from our own Galt Museum collection,” said curator Wendy Aitkens.

 The exhibit includes intricately carved Wendy Aitkens examines an intricately carved table. Photo by Richard Ameryfurniture from the Galt Museum Collection and bronze, jade and ceramics , some of them dating back to 11,000 B.C..
“ But we talk about the symbolism and what skills were used to create the pieces,” Aitkens continued.

“Some of them (the symbols) offered protection or a healthy life or many babies,” she said adding she was interested in where these pieces originate and especially some of the pottery an the skills used to create it.

“I‘ve made pottery for 25 years,” she said adding the exhibit’s examination of pottery techniques intrigued her.
There are selections of earthenware, created in a low fire as well as porcelain developed in high fire.
“They kept that secret until the 1700s,” she described.

“Bronze is very hard and strong. But they had a technique for bronze casting where they could create very intricate and complex pieces,” she said.

“Some of these pieces are very old, from 11,000-13,000 B.C, but they are very durable so they can be part of the Royal Ontario Museum’s traveling exhibit. So that shows their durability,” she said.
 The Galt Museum pieces chosen include gifts made brought over to mayor Carpenter in the 1990s from Lethbridge’s sister city in China including a tapestry.

 Plus there is furniture donated by local Chinese families.
 And as a nod to Lethbridge’s Chinatown, there are three bowls rescued from the Chinese National Building before it was closed and torn down after being damaged by wind last summer.

There are also school books used in the ’50s  and ’60s to teach Chinese children about their culture and language during special Saturday classes.
“They are very fragile, but they are wonderful,” Aitkens gushed.

The Galt Museum opened the new exhibit just in time to celebrate the Chinese New Year, Jan. 31 when the Year of the Horse begins.
The official opening was Feb. 9 from 2-3 p.m. when the Galt Museum welcomes special guest Lisa Claypool, University of Alberta associate professor of history, art, design and visual culture. She will discuss the meaning of jades, bronzes and porcelain in the culture of the Quing Dynasty (1644-1911), the last dynasty in China.

She talked about what the artifacts meant to the Chinese way of life, Chinese world attitudes and Chinese beliefs.

“ A lot of these items were created to sell to other countries. They would make a design they thought would appeal to the tastes of the people of  those countries,” she explained, gesturing to a fragment of a bowl, which was created to sell to people in England.

“ But a lot of households couldn’t afford these items,” she said.

 Some of the items were reused repeatedly.
“They were very practical items, she said indicated a bronze gourd once used to hold oil.

The exhibit includes several interactive components.
 There is a quiz people can take to test their knowledge of Chinese history, art and techniques and which even pertain to  the Chinese restaurant exhibit in the permanent gallery.
 There is also sketch paper and Chinese style pens  or people to copy some of the designs which appeal to them.

 And they can even dip a pen on water and  write their favourite designs on a stone placed next to the exit of the gallery. People cause it is water, it will evaporate in short time.
 Arts of China runs at the Galt Museum  Feb. 9-May 19.

 A version of this story appears in the February 19, 2014 edition of the Lethbridge Sun Times
— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
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