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Mother drives revival of forgotten art form

By Tan Yingzi in Chongqing | China Daily | Updated: 2017-04-19 07:39

Xu Nannan and her daughter create feather artwork at their studio in Chongqing. [Photo By Tan Yingzi / China Daily]

From a hobby to a business, a retired teacher and her daughter sell their works at home and abroad

From a distance, it looks like a normal traditional Chinese ink wash painting, but up close, it appears to be a piece of embroidery stitched with silk thread.

"This is feather art," Xu Nannan, the master of the artwork, said at her studio in the southwestern municipality of Chongqing.

As early as about 2,500 years ago, during the Spring and Autumn (770-476 BC) and Warring States (475-221 BC) periods, the Chinese began to create pictures using bird feathers.

This art form reached its peak during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), but due to various reasons, the skill was not handed down to subsequent generations.

Xu, a retired kindergarten teacher, knew nothing about feather art until she saw her 6-year-old daughter, Gu Qian, use a chicken feather to create a butterfly.

"Her feather creation was interesting and it inspired me," Xu recalled.

Xu then started to use feather painting as a teaching tool in her classes, and her beautiful artwork won her first prize in a local handicraft competition in the 1990s.

"I started it as a hobby, but many people encouraged me to take it seriously," she said. "At that time, no one made traditional Chinese feather art in China."

With no textbooks or training materials on this subject, Xu tried to utilize similar skills used in the creation of straw patchwork and fishbone art. She also started to learn about traditional Chinese painting.

She was named the Folk Art Master of Chongqing in 2001 and was invited to perform at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.

Unlike other forms of feather art in China, which use brushes and ink to complete the artwork, Xu only creates with feathers.

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