Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sleeping Buddha

The Temple of the Sleeping Buddha, also called the Recumbent Buddha, is located in Beijing’s western suburbs. The temple complex hosts several buildings and gardens but the hall of the Sleeping Buddha is by far the most prominent. Visitors flock from all over Asia as well as the west to visit the statue of Sakyamuni Buddha, said to be in a state of awakening, literally as well as spiritually.

The Sleeping Buddha statue is over 15 feet long, weighs at least 50 tons and is about 700 years old. Many of China’s Dynasties, from the Tang through the Ming, have added to the temple complex making it one of the oldest surviving historical sites in China. Buddhism itself is generally thought to have migrated to China around the first century of the Common Era, or approximately the year 2700 by the Chinese calendar.

We visited the temple in 1995. China was still at the very beginning of its current economic superstardom. Much of Beijing was poor, dirty and neglected, yet choked with traffic and activity. The Hall of the Sleeping Buddha was a remarkable example of preservation and opulence and the surrounding gardens were a tranquil sanctuary against the background of a frenzied culture on the verge of new world prominence.

Our memory of the temple’s solitude is part of what inspired us to start carrying a collection of silk coverlets and cotton quilts aptly named “Sleeping Buddha.” These are hand sewn, block printed and vibrantly colored; best of all they are supremely soft, warm and luxurious. There are two collections, theTEN THOUSAND BUDDHA cotton voile coverlets in raspberry, marigold or saffron colors and the truly lush ENDLESS KNOT dupioni silk coverlets in turquoise, Chinatown orange or gold.

All six are available in the store or on line. They are made in India and designed by New York artist Martha Bone who was inspired by here own travels through Asia. Pair them with our dupioni silk pillows from Vietnam and you’ll have a sumptuous pan Asian silk experience. These are truly bedroom couture with fine hand crafted workmanship. And while stylish these coverlets are also warm, with 100% cotton fills.

Martha uses stunning vibrant colors to invoke a feeling of lush tropics and far way places. With their softness and warmth the whole collection whisks you away and places you in the lotus gardens outside China’s Sleeping Buddha temple.

The Sleeping Buddha in Beijing has no shoes. The huge statue lies on its side with bare feet. Over the centuries dignitaries and religious pilgrims have left shoes of all sizes for the Buddha’s awakening. Some are cloth, some are wood and some are stone.

Now available from reorient and inspired by the same temple are vintage miniature stone shoes. Each is individually hand carved from varieties of soft river stone. Coloration varies from a light tan to a pale celadon green. Each is elegant in its simplicity and natural stone luster. They are meant to endure indefinitely and were originally carved almost 30 years ago.

As is the case with many objects in Chinese culture, shoes have a double meaning in the lexicon of art. A pair of shoes symbolizes the concept of “togetherness,” most often in the capacity of husband and wife. This is due to both a visual and linguistic pun. The two shoes together is a visual cue for things that obviously belong together and should not be broken apart; further the phrases for “together in harmony” and “children’s shoes” have very similar pronunciations in the Cantonese dialect. If you add a mirror to the assortment the double meaning makes a Chinese saying: “may husband and wife grow old together.”

By further extension, the concepts of “together” and “harmony” are synonyms in both Chinese and English. Buddhism is all about achieving a level of harmony in the universe such that you end suffering and enter a realm of tranquility. How appropriate then to leave shoes for a sleeping Buddha.

We have Sleeping Buddha quilts and stone shoes in stock in the store and ready to ship. Come in and see for yourself how vibrant, fun and soft these hand made quilts really are. We might be at the end of a hot summer but winter with its cold dark nights is coming. Liven up your bed set now to keep it feeling luxuriously warm. Matching pillows and shams are also available, just ask at the store.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The History of Blue & White Porcelain

The history of blue and white porcelain starts more than 3,000 years ago when the first porcelains appeared in China. It was during the Zhou dynasty (1027 – 771 BC) that Chinese craftsmen built the first kilns that could reach high enough temperatures to create what we now call porcelain.

During the Tang dynasty (618 – 907) porcelain went into mass production but it took several hundred years more for the advent of the now classic blue and white styling. The earliest examples of blue and white porcelain are attributed to the Yuan dynasty (1271 – 1368). Artisans experimenting with different materials, such as iron, copper and cobalt, found that each created different colors when porcelains were fired in the kiln. The cobalt allowed for a vibrant blue color that gave a stark contrast to the white porcelain body and brought out stunning detail. Credit is given to the city of Jingdezhen, sometimes called China’s porcelain capital, for this important development.

Though at start of the Ming dynasty (1369 – 1644) trade outside China was forbidden, by the late 16th century blue and white porcelain had become a standard and was wildly popular in Europe. Trade ships waited for days in Chinese ports and brought back hundreds of thousands of blue and white porcelain items at a time. To this day collectors head to the Netherlands to find the finest examples of Ming era blue and white porcelain. In the 17th century the Dutch East India Company held a near monopoly on the sought after commodity.

The blue and white porcelain being made today throughout China has changed very little from the days of Ming emperor Kangxi. The biggest modern advancement is gas fired kilns and a “decaling” technique that eliminates the labor-intensive hand painting. Reorient hand picks our porcelain wares on our own buying trips to China. We work with smaller kilns that hand paint their blue and white porcelains, capturing the charm and tradition of this time honored art.

If you have any questions about any of our Chinese blue and white porcelain please give us call, send us an email or stop in the store. We are always happy to share our experience and expertise.