Mother with many children Dymkovo doll, 1960-70s, All-Russian Decorative Art Museum, Moscow
Fragment of a beaded tablecloth, Penang, early 20th century, The Peranakan Museum Singapore
Though not famous for its high quality, Vietnam ceramics nevertheless are creative and have a sort of rustic beauty different from that of the carefully refined ceramics from some other countries. There is an air of innocent carelessness about them as if the craftsmen who produced them were quite liberal in their creation not relying too much on the rules of symmetry and decoration.
Happy Buddha, garnet
On a picturesque and crowded with tourists street of the Ancient Town of Hoi An there is a small but interesting museum, the Gemstones Art Museum. It was founded in 2013 by a Vietnamese passionate collector. The museum's exhibition is divided into two sections: one showcases natural gemstone crystals and uncut stones and at another more than two hundred pieces of precious stone sculpture are displayed. In terms of quality and rarity of the stones, the variety of the carvings represented the collection has no comparison in Vietnam. Visitors have a unique chance to get to know and enjoy the great artistic and manual skills of Vietnamese craftsmen. Here are a few examples of the gem carving from the museum's collection
Detail of the ganch wall decoration, the Throne Hall, Khudoyar Khan Palace, Kokand, Uzbekistan
Anyone who has not been to Central Asia is hardly likely to know the meaning of ganch. If one explains what ganch is it may seem highly prosaic: it is neither stone nor clay but something in between. It is obtained by firing a rock containing gypsum and clay and grinding it into a powder which is then mixed with water and a solution of vegetable glue. It then slowly solidifies as it dries out. Its shades range from light gray to light yellow. Ganch carving is one of the unique and ancient forms of artistic crafts of Central Asia.
Orenburg shawls are one of the world famous symbols of Russia. These lacy hand-knitted pieces of art are beautiful, warm and so light, fine and delicate that can be pulled through a wedding ring. They are so loved in Russia that there is even a song dedicated to this piece of clothing.
Tonight, when there's frost and there's blizzard
When the snow storm is roaming the road
Will you cover my shoulders, sweet darling,
With an Orenburg downy shawl.The story of the Orenburg shawl started in the second half of the 18th century, when two older crafts were joined together. One of the predecessors of the fluffy shawl with its cobweb pattern was the thermal Kalmyk or Cossack shawl, which was worn under light clothing in fierce frosts, and knitted in plain stitch from the softest goat's fleece. The other was the fine lace shawls made by Ural Cossack women.
Late 19th century kalaga wall hanging; embroidered wool with silver and gilt threads and sequins, with appliqué of coloured braids, silk and felt fabrics, padded. The Victoria and Albert Museum
Kalagas are traditional beads and metal-thread embroidered pictures that originally were used to decorate the walls of the palaces and the temples, served as a room partitions or as screens hung outside the house on festive occasions. The word "kalaga" literally means "foreign certain" and referrs to the fact that the original idea was imported from Thailand. The art has been practised in Myanmar for well over two hundred years. Kalagas's most distinctive feature is richly decorated, applique figures that are padded to give a soft relief on an ornamented background.
Double-sided sash, Sluck, 1778-1807, silk weaving. Photo source
Being a bit nostalgic about the days I spent in Belarus recently I decided to write about something Belurusian. And there can not be a better choice than Sluck sashes , real treasure of Belarusian culture. This type of handwork was produced in Belarus (then Rzeczpospolita) in the second half of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Sluck sashes were named after the city of Slutsk (Minsk region), where they were first produced in 18th century to replace expensive imported sashes from the Orient. Such sashes from Ottoman Empire, Persia, Iran and China were very popular among the nobles of the time and served not only as a decorative element of the costume but as a symbol of high social status and wealth as well.
The classical Nepali masks always represent deities or demons and never the dead or the ancestors. Besides, masks are more often used in processions and in rituals rather than in theatrical performances.
There are three categories of masks: first, masks representing faces of gods which are worn by performers during ritual dances, a second category, masks which serve as ornamental motifs for decorating a temple, a chariot during a procession or a vase used as a ritual object. A third category includes masks in metal or stone representing faces of deities that are worshiped like statues. They are called statue-masks. The metal used for making them are silver, brass or bronze. These masks are often decorated with jewels and when not worshiped they are kept in a wooden box inside the temple.
Horsetail hair embroidery, source
Every ethnic group of China has its own unique way of designing and adorning their costumes and textiles. An ethnic minority of the Sui (Shui) counts just about 400 thousand people. For centuries a special traditional type of embroidery has been kept alive by the Sui women. This unique kind of embroidery uses horsetail hair for the needlework.
Vase, Qing dynasty, 18th century, Cloisonné enamel. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Enameling is a technique of fusing powdered glass to a bronze, copper or sometimes silver body by firing. The powder melts, flows and then hardens to a smooth, durable coating. Such metal vessels with a glassy coating on their surfaces are known as enamelwares. Enamelware which has the sturdiness of metal, the smoothness and corrosion-resistance of glass, is practical and beautiful. To day the earliest known enamel object made in China is the Tang Dynasty (618-907) gold-inlaid silver-base enamel mirror kept in the Shosoin Repository of Nara, Japan. Chinese enamels can be classified today into cloisonné, champleve, and painted enamels according to their production methods. In terms of bases there are gold-base, copper-base, porcelain-base, glass-base and purple-clay enamel. Among them the copper-base enamel is the most popular because the copper price is lower and enamel is easier to adhere to the copper surface.
Hand-embroidered ritual towel from Podneprovie region
During my last stay in London I found this beautiful decorative place in a local charity shop. And this is not just an ordinary decorative plate but a real treasure: an authentic Palekh lacquered miniature. Distinctive features of Palekh miniatures are brightly painted scenes over the black background; elongated, graceful figures(as on icons) and elaborate gold and/or silver ornamentation applied in fine lines throughout the painting. A genuine miniature also has on it a name of the artist and the year when it was created. My dish dates from 1989 and the artist's name is T.Bolshakova.
The exquisite, highly detailed miniatures painted in Palekh are called "small miracles" and they are on a great demand among the collectors throughout the world. So, I was really lucky to have mine for 8 GB pounds only. The painted image is of Ivan attempting to capture the mythical Fire-bird.
The Palekh art didn't exist till the beginning of the 20th century. Previously the small Russian village was a center of icon painting. The Revolution of 1917 changed that, the new government closed down the churches and banned icon production. The holy images were no longer on demand and the icon painters of Palekh found themselves out of work. The new times demanded new themes and subjects. So, Palekh artists had to use their skills and technique to create something different and they started to paint characters and scenes from real life, literature and fairytales using papier-mâché boxes as their canvas. Below are a few examples of beautiful Palekh miniatures from collections of different museums of Russia
Khon masks on display at the Baiyoke Sky Hotel, Bangkok
The khon is a traditional mask play in Thailand which implies the wearing of masks by performers. The story that has been used for staging of the khon is the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Indian epic Ramayana. Staged in its entirety, the Ramakien is an immensely complex story with 138 episodes involving 311 different characters and taking more that 720 hours of continuous performance.
The mask is perhaps the most important characteristic of the khon, for through it more than any other thing else, one distinguishes the variety of roles.
Wood carved scene from the Ramakien (Ramayana)
If you are holidaying in Thailand and are seduced to buy one of the tours the local agencies offer I bet among "elephant riding" and "boat market experience" suggestions there will be a visit to a woodcarving centre too. All my photos of beautiful Thai woodcarving objects were made in one such centre near Bangkok.
Thanks to the rich forests that once covered much of territory of Thailand woodcarving became a major craft early in the kingdom's history. Until the late 19th century woodcarving was widely practised and entire temples and palaces were often wooden.
The preferred material for carvers was teak, because of its durability and resistance to insect damage, but other woods were used as well. The colour of the wood was not that important since it was usually gilded, lacquered or adorned with glass mosaics, tinsel or other bright material after carving was completed.
Agra carpet, late 19th century. Nazmiyal Collection
Sir George Birdwood, one of the greatest authorities on Indian carpets, said that they "...gained their reputations for the originality and great beauty of their designs, the harmony of their colouring, and their special fitness for the houses of the cultivated, the wealthy and the great".
And that's how he describes one of the Indian carpets at the Paris Exposition of 1878: "it is a carpet which it will be difficult to put into a European room, as its surface is too beautiful to allow of its being broken by furniture. It is a carpet to be looked at like a golden sunset...".
As at the start carpet weaving was patronized by the higher class it reflected its taste in designs: gardens, flowers, fruits and hunting were popular themes at those times. With the end of the patronage and the rise of interest from western countries the Indian weavers widened assortment of patterns and now there are large varieties of carpet designs offered: from Persian to Scandinavian, from Central Asian to Chinese.
A few more examples of the 19th century Iki-Ningyo heads from the Tokyo National Museum collection. Looking at these hyper-realistic heads one can't help but admire the skills of the craftsmen.
photo courtesy Biswarup Sarkar
Sri Lankan tovil mask. National Museum Scotland
In Sri Lanka traditional masks are not just show-pieces or curios to decorate apartments. Here they still have meaningful existence in rituals and performances. Masks worn during so called demon dances are called tovil masks. During a tovil ceremony the dancer has to impersonate the demon and to converse freely with the exorcist. So many of the masks worn in these ceremonies are only half-cut masks and do not cover the entire face and head. They are light and easy to talk through.
There is a specialized group of tovil masks called sanni masks. Many Sri Lankans believe that diseases are results of demonic activity and 18 demons that cause sicknesses are represented by the sanni masks. Among the 18 deseases are following: delirium, abdominal pain, blindness, lameness, dumbness, deafness and insomnia, paralysis, cold shivers, disease of the stomach, fainting, high fever.
Shiels (Dhal), Lucknow, first half 19th century. Silver gilt, brass, enamel and diamonds. Photo The Royal Collection Trust
Thai flower garlands, photo courtesy edna astronomia-estrada
Thai floral decoration is an art that has been in practice since the early times of history. It makes use not only of flowers but also leaves and branches and some additional materials such as incense sticks or candles. The most common of all the country's floral creations are garlands known as malai. They are made by stringing together various flower combinations that depend on seasonal blooms and the creator's imagination. The mixture, however, will always include one or more fragrant flowers, usually jasmine buds and roses. Garlands range from simple to highly complex and are placed as offerings on shrines, presented to honoured guests and used on many other special occasions.
Wood carved decoration of the Kumari house, Basantapur
One of the things that Nepal can really be proud about is its traditional art of woodcarving. You can stumble upon beautiful pieces of wood-carved art literally at any corner of Kathmandu. Struts, pillars and beams of the temples, doors and windows of the common houses and office buildings, photo- and mirror frames, furniture - everything that is wooden is decorated either with finely carved figures or with intricate patterns.
The tradition of woodcarving in Nepal goes back to the 12 century. Since then, the carvers have achieved great skill by passing secrets from generation to generation and acquiring and sharing new techniques. In the Newar community, to which wood carvers mostly belong to, medieval texts are still kept - instructions and rules for wood carving, which are used in practice until now. For example, the masters still do not use any nails or glue to create their works.