About six weeks ago I posted a question about the above and the
result was an underwhelming response. Well, I’m here and to be
frank, up until about a half hour ago I was getting very
dissapointed in what I saw.
But first some background, I’m largely book-taught and some
self-taught (in which case having a fool for a teacher-with
apologies to Charles Dickens). I work with silver and copper and do
enamel work and try to follow an artisan ethic. So what I have been
looking for is to see what people here have been doing with metals.
To make a long story short, it is my current (and quite uneducated
belief) that Chinese metalsmithing reached its zeneath around two
thousand years ago. I have seen simply beautiful examples of casting
and cold joining in the Hall of the Army of Terra Cotta Warriors in
Xi’an. In today’s stores all I saw were thin bands of 18kt gold,
some platinum and diamonds. In lower end stores one sees stuff that
looks nickel-like on which are cabochons of agates and “jade” held
But tonight I met three silversmiths working outside their shops on
West Street (Xi Jie) in the town of Yangshou (a three hour boat ride
down from Guilin in GuanXi province). They each sat facing a tree
stump on which was mounted a rather robust stake. They work with 99%
silver, and I saw one taking 1cm square billet about 20cm and
hammering it out. They used a mallet and, for lack of a better term,
a goldsmith’s hammer for all of their work. Annealling was done with
a bellows that appeared to combine a volatile liquid vapour with
air. Each of them had learned from their fathers and each of their
fathers had learned from their grandfathers. Here’s where the tale
gets interesting, they are all from Yunan Province in which there
are a large number of enthic minorities (ie not Han) who are keeping
the artisanal traditions alive. My sources: one was one of the
artisans and the other was a former tour guide who now does other
work). The tour guide said that if I wanted to see “si lversmithing”
(in both the casual and the more specific meanings of the word) then
I must go to Yunan Province. One of the artisans said that their
customers tend to be the neighboring Tibetans who like silver work.
It has been a great day.
And yes, we did buy some jewellery for ourselves and we did take
pictures of the artisans working. But if you want to see examples of
their work, then you’ll have to come and see it yourselves as I took
now pictures of it.
who is just about to enjoy a cool beer in 30C weather (about 2 deg
north of the Tropic of Cancer)