Arts of ancient China on display in Philadelphia Exhibit to continue at Franklin Institute through May 26

March 14, 1997|By Randy Kraft | Randy Kraft,ALLENTOWN MORNING CALL

PHILADELPHIA - The "China: Ancient Arts and Sciences" exhibit at the Franklin Institute Science Museum features as many as 14 artisans from China demonstrating ancient skills.

This exhibit, which continues through May 26, provides an introduction to an ancient culture - with portraits painted inside tiny bottles, elaborate kites, paper made from bamboo, calligraphy, artwork made from cut and folded paper, sculpted dough and eggshell painting.

Many of the craftsmen come from families that have been practicing the same trade for hundreds of years.

"This is not novelty. This is life," said museum spokesman Tony Sorrentino.

"China" is promoted as "the most important exhibit of science and technology ever to come from the People's Republic of China," and Franklin Institute is the only place in the United States where it can be seen, say museum officials.

Not all the artisans are working every day. All 14 are at work Thursdays through Sundays. At least five work Mondays through Thursdays.

Saturdays are the busiest. And the museum often is crowded with school groups on weekday mornings in spring. Weekday afternoons are quieter.

A drawback is that none of the artisans speaks English. Museum spokesmen promise at least one interpreter will be present at all times. Interpreters are local Chinese-American volunteers.

Limited information, in English and Chinese, is provided on signs at each part of the exhibit. Some of it may raise questions - such as how ancient Chinese kites, called wood hawks, were used during wars to spy on the enemy.

The exhibit, which covers about 10,000 square feet on the upper level of the Mandell Center, is entered through a Chinese gate and decorated with colorful kites.

The artisans are surrounded by more than 300 artifacts spanning 7,000 years - bronze vessels, ceramics, seals, shadow puppets, masks and more. You can admire what look like paintings, including a "Mona Lisa," made of woven silk.

A display of Chinese porcelain includes a model of a huge dragon kiln once used to make pottery and porcelain. You'll also learn about the many uses of lacquer, produced from the resin of Chinese lacquer trees.

Among objects on display are a chariot that fires rockets; a two-stage dragon rocket; bombs with iron thorns that look like giant horse chestnut shells; a tiny bronze cannon; and a bamboo flame thrower.

There's also a wagon with a built-in compass, a carved figure that always points south.

The largest object in the exhibit is an operating draw loom similar to those used since the third century to produce silk brocade for world trade.

Pub Date: 3/14/97

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