Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Origins of One Hundred Good Wishes Quilts (Part One of Many)

I first encountered One Hundred Good Wishes Quilts (OHGWQ) as I was researching Chinese patchwork traditions.

As the curator responsible for building our museum's collection of non-Western quilts and related textiles, I was curious to find out what kinds of quilting and patchwork have traditionally taken place in China. One form of Chinese folk art that I quickly discovered was the bai jia pao(白家袍), or "One Hundred Families Robe." As I was researching the Chinese concept of one hundred families, I also found websites for one hundred good wishes quilts. In a later post, I will address more directly the possible relationships between the two.

Bai jia pao are silk patchwork robes that were made for hundreds of years as talismanic, or spiritually protective, garments for children. Because each patch was supposed to be donated by different families, the garment was believed to bestow the strength of these households on the young wearer, usually a boy. Auspicious symbols were also embroidered on the bai jia pao to give even more spiritual protection from malevolent spirits and ghosts.

I've discovered at least 10 of these bai jia pao in museums and private collections. Here is an excellent example that I had the opportunity to examine at the Saint Louis Art Museum (SLAM) in March, 2011. Many thanks to SLAM for allowing me to use these images.

Han Chinese Boy's Robe ("One Hundred Households Robe"), late 19th century

embroidered silk with silk and metallic threads

back: 27 5/8 in. (70.2 cm)
arm span: 39 9/16 in. (100.5 cm)

Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Julius A. Gordon and Ilene Gordon Wittels in memory of Rose Gordon  112:1989

This bai jia pao is composed of approximately 155 roughly 1.75" (measured side to side) hexagons. The silks are in a range of colors, mostly in damask weaves. Each patch has a different embroidered motif on it, except for two patches with a rotund boy (likely a symbol of abundant, healthy sons) and two patches with a woman on it (perhaps symbolizing the mother or commissioner of the robe?).

A rotund boy, representing the hope for many healthy sons, an idea central to traditional, patriarchal Chinese society.

An elegant woman, perhaps representing the mother and/or female commissioner/maker of the garment.
Other auspicious motifs appear on this bai jia pao; for instance the shou longevity symbol on the right (on the red hexagon) and the qi lin, a mythical creature often depicted with a boy on its back, as here, to symbolize the wish for abundant sons.
Finally, here is a yin yang and ba gua (trigrams) symbol that is so integral to the Daoist idea of spiritual and cosmological balance. (For some reason, I find it so interesting to see an octagon inside a hexagon.)

In my next post, I will talk more about bai jia pao and other possible points of origin for the contemporary One Hundred Good Wishes Quilt.

I'm off to the Textile Society of America meeting in Washington, D.C. tomorrow to deliver a paper about OHGWQ -- wish me luck!

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