DEALER & DESIGNER SPOTLIGHT
Jan Lee - Chinese Ancestral Shrines
The exhibit, which took a decade to compile, is the work of Jan Lee owner of Sinotique.
“From the time I first laid my eyes on one of these architectural marvels I was hooked. I had spent a lot of time seeking out unusual examples for my collection and I believe it is the largest collection of ancestral shrines outside of China. What fascinates me, aside from the architectural interest they have as objects, is the history and meaning behind them. These are physical testaments to the lineage and customs of some of China’s most powerful families, yet we know nothing about who owned them because the cultural revolution in China displaced those families from their estates. The people who possessed them last likely had no connection to the families who originally commissioned and used them for ancestor worship, this is at once fascinating and bittersweet to me” says Jan.
The ancestral shrines resemble architectural models of beautiful Chinese estate houses. Most are decorated on the front and sides with little or no detail on the back as they sat in a special place within a huge room known as the ancestral hall, usually placed at the rearmost area of the family compound.
The hand carved wooden shrines are replicated in minute detail to reflect the family’s clan estate. This attention was important so that the spirits of the ancestors would be happy in family surroundings in the afterlife.
The ancestral hall, and the shrines would be opened up during key religious holidays on the Chinese lunar calendar. Ching Ming, or the sweeping of the graves holiday coincides with Easter time on the solar calendar, and is considered one of the most auspicious times to make offerings to the ancestors. Chinese New Year, spring and autumn festivals are also times to make offerings as well.
The ancestral shrines did not contain images as one might expect in the West, but rather name plaques representing the ancestral lineage of the clan, some dating back hundreds of years judging from the size of the shrines in the Lee Collection.
The region most represented by the collection is Shanxi province, a remote Northern province famous in Chinese history for being the seat of China’s banking industry. Many of the clan families in Shanxi grew to inherit great fortunes and their love of Sung dynasty life and culture is legendary. With almost total self-imposed isolation from foreign cultures Shanxi families enjoyed what they considered to be a purely Chinese aesthetic based on pre-Mongol and pre-Manchu China.
Sinotique is in negotiation to have the entire exhibit travel to Queensborough Community College Gallery, City University Of New York in late 2012.
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