China visit – stone statues, more antiques and some interesting Xinjiang furniture
Tuesday was spent visiting a couple of other warehouses that I tend to source a large number of antiques from each time I visit China. One in particular offers a superb collection of pieces – certainly the best I have seen in Beijing in terms of the range available and the quality of repair. While their prices are certainly not the cheapest the furniture is beautifully restored and sympathetically finished – maintaining each item’s original character as far as possible without applying too thick or shiny a varnish over the top which other workshops often do and which in my eyes can spoil the effect. This is where we now source the majority of our antiques and where most of our ‘Beijing stock’ is held before we ship it.
My timing in this case was perfect as I was able to have first pick of around fifty pieces that had only just come out from restoration, as well as choosing from hundreds of antique Chinese cabinets, tables, chairs, chests and boxes that have been restored over previous months. I selected around forty or fifty items, ranging from large cabinets and painted sideboards from Gansu and Qinghai down to some wooden bowls from Tibet and a couple of cute little children’s desks, as well as stools, altar tables and a few painted trunks.
After lunch we went to see the other supplier, one who usually has a nice collection of antique furniture from Shanxi province including the painted black and red lacquer armoires that this region is famous for. As well as the antique pieces, they also produced some nice painted reproduction pieces and while the range here is smaller it is usually possible to find a nice selection to top up a container load.
Detail of carvings on a large Xinjiang kang dabyed||Carved wooden Xinjiang kangs awaiting restoration||Restored antique sideboard from Xinjiang province||Restored antique sideboard from Xinjiang province|
|Wooden carved figures||Large seated stone mandarin||Large stone buddha||Wooden acupuncture dolls|
I spent my last day in Beijing with another contact over here, visiting a few other workshops and antique warehouses and getting other ideas for reproduction furniture. The range and styles on offer are vast but I came away with some useful contacts and ideas for the future. Our first stop was at another stone market and we arrived after fighting our way through the Beijing traffic for around an hour and a half. The traffic seems to get worse each time I come here despite the various measures by the government to restrict vehicle licenses and ban drivers from using their cars on certain days. However, it was worth it when we arrived – the market had a much wider range of statues and carved stone than is seen at Panjiayuan market and, while I didn’t order anything this time around I made a mental note to visit again next time rather than buying from the larger market. As well as the stoneware there were one or two shops selling carved wooden carvings – buddhas and other figures as well as animals and even acupuncture dummies.
In the afternoon we managed to get to three or four smaller workshops, mostly focusing on reproduction furniture or what they tend to refer to here as ‘re-edition’ pieces – mostly old cabinets that are taken apart, usually resized, and put back together with a brand new finish. Of all of these the most interesting was a workshop that specialises in taking old daybeds from Xinjiang province, the autonomous region in the northwest of China, and converting these into low sideboards – ideal for use as TV stands. Many of the unrestored, unconverted pieces were outside in the forecourt. Each one is over two metres wide and a metre or more deep, so they are reduced in depth and width to make them practical as a modern piece of furniture. What are special about them are the intricate carved patterns that the people of Xinjiang carve onto the front panels – giving them a similar appearance to Moroccan furniture. The original panels would have been brightly painted, but with the passage of time the colours fade so that in the converted pieces the finish is either very muted or even bleached. The result is a quite modern look with real character that I think would be very popular in many UK homes – take a look at some examples on our Facebook page. We will look into shipping a few of these on an upcoming container so I hope to get one or two examples up on our website soon.
I was up at 4.00 am on Thursday morning to start the long journey home, with time to reflect on another productive visit. I’ll be posting a few more details and photos from the trip on the Shimu Facebook page in the next few days (now that I’m free from the block that the Chinese government puts on the site) so have a look on there for more photos and other previews of what is coming.