Tuesday, June 03, 2008
A couple of days ago I posted a photo of this little boat's bigger brother for the Round Robin Photo Challenge, Tiny. In that entry I guessed that the larger ship was a netsuke. It seemed to fit the description in some ways, but I couldn't be sure. In the course of my research I found no netsuke that really looked similar.
Then I found the website for the International Netsuke Society, and I figured these would be the people who'd know. Among the contemporary artists featured there is Doug Sanders, a fellow Hoosier who does beautiful miniature work in wood. (You definitely want to check out his site: Buxus Sempervirens.) I sent off an email, and he graciously took a look at the photos and sent this reply:
"Vicki- I think it's exactly as you've been told: a Chinese peach pit carving. The tiny holes top and bottom are likely original to the pit itself. There's not much netsuke-like there.
"Still, it's a fun curio to have around."
I must admit that I was a bit disappointed at first, but I quickly got over it. Doug's email sent me off in the right direction, and the more I read the more intrigued I became.
Nut and fruit-stone carving, known as Hedaio, is a Chinese art of its own with a history dating back to at least the Song Dynasty, over a thousand years ago, and are still being made today. The best are incredibly detailed and quite valuable. Boats were a popular subject, many including a figure of a famous Chinese poet Su Shi. Apparently, the carved characters in the bottom are poetry, and it is relatively unusual to find that.
In Chinese folklore, peaches are associated with longevity and good luck, and peachwood charms are thought to ward off evil spirits. Peach pits are therefore a popular material for this art form. Walnuts and olive pits are used too; a tiny hole is drilled in the end of those, and a little worm is inserted and left inside to hollow out the nut.
I want to thank both Karen Funk Blocher of Outpost Mavarin for the Round Robin topic that set me off on this little adventure and, again, Doug Sanders for steering me straight. I've gone off on so many tangents and learned so much about Chinese art and culture from this. It's been a fun week!
To learn more, check out these links:
*Small Pit Carving Brings You a Big World
*Peaches in Heaven