Folk Art from Shaanxi Province, China, shared in Nyeri County, Kenya – Mary Nix Hollowell – China 2013

Three generations of Fan Gao-qis lived inside the compound. Fan Gao-qi Sr. was a small, dignified man, who wore a white button-down shirt. He welcomed us to his home, then ushered us into a first-floor room that served as an art gallery. The walls were completely covered with bright paintings. Some were just canvases. Others were framed and behind glass. All of them were available for purchase.

We studied the paintings; then Fan Gao-qi Jr., who followed in his father’s footsteps, displayed a book that he’d illustrated. It was called Joulupukki.  The book was published in Finland, and it featured a Chinese Santa Claus. I was charmed and loved the unique illustrations that showed Santa Claus in unusual situations. On the cover, he played the flute for a set of tigers. Inside the book, illustrations showed St. Nick feeding fish to endangered pink dolphins in the Yangtze River, distributing bamboo to panda bears, paddling between sharp cliffs in the Li River and much more. Santa also did t’ai chi and calligraphy …

Had Joulupukki been for sale in The Fan Gao-qi Gallery, I would have purchased several copies myself. Instead, we bought a signed painting of wild horses. The canvas was rolled into a tube for safe transport, and I hoped it would stop raining by the time we left.

Fan Gao-qi, Sr.’s bedroom was attached to the art gallery.  We could see a neatly-made bed through an open door. I saw that he had a wooden block for a pillow. I’d read about block pillows. Some Chinese people still followed the tradition of sleeping with their head on something hard. It certainly kept you from flipping over onto your stomach. I would try it myself at home to see how it felt …

Next we went upstairs to an art studio. It had big windows that would let in plenty of light on a sunny day. Gabi’s graduate student donned a white jacket over her green blouse and stood to give a formal presentation about her grandfather’s accomplishments. It was an impressive family show …

Next we were each given an art pad and directed to paint some interesting items that were on display, including pottery and driftwood. The two artists watched, and sometimes they borrowed brushes to enhance our work with added details.

Mary Nix Hollowell – Fulbright to China 2013

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