'Vibrant Bounty' at Littleton Museum offers rich glimpse into culture

Folk art from China's Shaanxi Province at Littleton Museum


New at the Littleton Museum — and clearly worth more than one visit — is a collection of Chinese folk art from the Shaanxi Province called “Vibrant Bounty.”

It will engage art lovers from 8 to 80 with its detailed presentation of rural scenes via tempera paintings, plus a collection of charming fabric toys certain to make one smile.

The exhibit, organized by Exhibits USA, a program of Mid America Arts Alliance, will be at the museum through Oct. 17, open during museum hours.

It shares works from a region of China, near the beginning of the fabled Silk Road, that has many similarities to rural America, with its sturdy, hard-working people.

(Readers may be familiar with the famous nearby archaeological find, the Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang and his Terracotta Army.)

In the center of the gallery are glass cases with colorful crittters — we especially loved the gray-green embroidered silk toad, with its googly eyes and pink nose ... close to a bright red-crested rooster and an embroidered piggy with flowers and a smile.

Paintings in a uniform size and style circle the room, depicting rural customs and scenes many Americans will relate to. They were created between 1958 and 1961, and were part of the Communist Party's “Great Leap Forward.”

To the right of the entrance is a painting by Shengtao Zhao, called “Harvesting Sugar Cane in the North,” which establishes the folk art style that carries throughout the exhibit. It relates to American “Grandma Moses” folk art, with a rhythm of rows of people and plants, and bright colors.

Next is one by Quan Tang called “Making Paper by Hand,” illustrating the way it's been done for centuries. China is widely credited with development of papermaking techniques and one can buy a similar handmade paper today. It's popular with some watercolorists.

Third is “Rinsing Cloth on the River” by Zijian Lui, followed by “Hoeing in Spring” and “Picking Lotus Seedpods.” (This one brought to mind the giant Lotus Pods now in the Water Gardens at Hudson Gardens.)

While different artists are presented, the paintings are the same size, created with a similar palette of paints and in a related folk style. They go on to show drying tobacco leaves, and several especially bright ones focused on drying peppers — one can almost smell the hot peppers in Szechuan foods.

Several elaborate opera masks by unknown artists stand out in mid gallery. Perhaps readers have seen performances of Chinese opera, with elegant costumes, grotesque masks and villains shouting lines and brandishing swords?

A case on the wall holds “Hanging Crab With 12 Animals,” illustrating the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac that symbolize “The Happy Cycle of Life” and are said bring good luck to a home where they are displayed.

Near that crab is a painting of a flutist sitting on the back of a “Grazing Cow,” characterized as a “poetic scene of country life.”

Also included in this rich exhibit: New Year prints of Chinese deities, embroidered shoe pads, a baby quilt and a painting showing children floating lanterns in a festival, celebrated on the fifth day of the Chinese New Year.


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