How the Dragon Chest came to Life (2)

June 10, 2008

In the last post I talked about the negative development of crafts through mass tourism in southeast Asian countries (and of course in other countries of this world as well).

This development is really regrettable, as it was still possible to acquire high quality handicraft items 10 years ago for reasonable prices. What is offered today can be reduced to cheap mass ware and kitsch. Tourists often do not recognize (or do not care about) the low value of these items nor do they differentiate between cheap mass ware and really high quality hand made crafts. This can destroy the reputation of a whole region.

If you are lucky enough to be able to travel to regions where high quality crafts are still produced and where traditional craftsmanship is a prerequisite it is fascinating to watch how fast a sculpture or any other object is made with the simplest tools. Most of the artisans have “inherited” their profession from their fathers from generation to generation. Thus they learn from childhood how to treat the various materials, how to carve the traditional forms. This practice allows them to work that fast. The traditional work does not really permit spontaneity or individual design of a sculpture. One must understand this, recognize and accept the difference from individual art work.

Naturally there are uncounted highly talented artists in Asia who do not work traditionally or at least who do not work in this metier as described above, often even better trained (as in China) than in western countries. I am also not talking about the artists who exclusively work on replica of famous or less known art works and which are flooding the markets in Europe and the US to everybody’s dismay as well. These works – although possibly technically brilliant – are not what we would call a piece of unique and original art. A copy is a copy and a derivative piece will always remain a derivative, be it from China or any other country of the world.

Unfortunately there are enough people who do not want to make a difference and as long as there is a requirement for these replica there will be a market for them. It won’t just disappear. And there are always enough people who just want a bargain and even don’t care whether it has been copied or not.

A positive aspect of doing replica (and declared as such) could be that “art” finds its way into much more homes because it is “affordable”. It could have an educating effect in promoting art to an audience that would have never cared for it otherwise. Thus possibly the spark is planted for the desire to achieve a “real” piece of art work. So every coin has 2 sides again.

What I personally highly despise is the theft of images and works and the act of trying to disguise this. To steal the mental property of another artist (or any other person or company) is simply a crime. Also here the public needs more education as many people cannot or do not want to understand the impact.

Enough of this.

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Returning to my own work – carving a Chinese chest (I wonder what Chinese carvers would be saying about this 🙄 – although this is truly my own design and not copied from somewhere else) – I decided to use pine wood. It is easy to acquire, relatively light although not quite easy to handle when you want to work very filigree, because you risk splinting all the time. The wood has hard and soft areas within the same piece. It was a challenge.

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Again I used chisel and a small electric chisel for the geometric ornaments, that was meant originally for the use of model construction because the various tools are really tiny but also very good for the filigree work such as mine, especially for the straight parts.

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My inspiration for this chest came from the patterns and motifs of old Chinese porcelain plates and bowls, which often depict images from the life of a rural family as well as scenes from the court or myth tales.

The Chinese letters on this chest are my own invention as I am not Chinese speaking – they are only decoration. I only hope that they don’t have any meaning… 😳

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First step for the production of this chest were detailed drawings which then were transferred to the wood. Partially I used blueprint paper for doing this.
You can still see the lines in the following image:

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Usually it does not matter which kind of pen or marker you use on wood for marking your motif as it is carved away anyway. That’s the practical point.

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After the raw work the wood was sanded and varnished in the colour of Mahogany wood (before the single pieces, front, sides and cover were assembled)

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After drying the whole piece was treated with a finish on the basis of beeswax to make it resistant against moist and dirt – this also helps to avoid light scratches. After that the chest was polished with pure beeswax to give it a velvety shimmer.

In above images you can also see how the chest is assembled: with strong wooden dowels which have been glued into the wood.

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chintruhe101

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In the last picture below you can see that the chest also received a nice inside: just following the Chinese tradition there are several layers of acrylic lacquer (modern material of course) inside to give it a nice glow through the open work on the front.

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(story continues – please stay tuned…)

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2 Responses to “How the Dragon Chest came to Life (2)”


  1. Hey, love the dragon (and thanks for the comment on my blog by the way).
    When I was a nipper I loved chinese dragons, in fact I even lived in Hong Kong for a few yrs in my twenties, and got to go to Beijing too.

  2. vyala Says:

    Hi Steve, thank YOU for visiting and your kind words. Hongkong was an amazing city and I loved it very much (before it went back to the main land). Today China’s cities with all that glitzi stuff have totally lost their attraction for me.


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