Custom Oriental Style Finials

Oriental style finials

Oriental style finials on the bridge

Once the Japanese bridge had been built and installed the making of the custom oriental style finials to fit on each bridge post could begin. The post trim on decorative garden bridges (if any) are usually round wooden finials from a local hardware store. These are great for a Victorian staircase bannister but are not an exciting option for a Japanese bridge. With this in mind we decided to design our own oriental style finials that would enhance the Japanese flavour of the bridge.

A common finial shape on Japanese bridges is an onion-like sphere mounted on round bridge posts. Our bridge had square posts so the onion shape was combined with traditional Japanese roof design so it would fit to the posts. The final result compliments the Japanese style of the rest of the bridge. To keep costs to a minimum it was decided to cast the finials in plaster. Hessian was used around the edges where it was thinner to add reinforcement to the plaster. Several “drop tests” were made which proved the plaster cast to be very robust and suitable for dressing the bridge. The finials were sealed with shellac and finished in gold enamel paint. The bright gold dulled over a period of weeks to leave a nice metallic bronze finish on the finials.

The completed oriental style finials will now be fitted to the posts of the Japanese bridge.

Oriental finial mould making

Oriental style finial ready for making its latex mould

Final latex mould

Completed latex mould of the finial ready for casting

Completed Finial mould

The completed finial mould ready for casting

Oriental finial plaster castings

Completed plaster casts of the finials ready for sanding

Finials sanded and sealed with shellac

Finials after sanding and sealed with shellac

Completed custom oriental finials

Finials completed with a coat of gold enamel

Chinese Cloisonne Enamelware

Example of cloisonné enamelware

Example of cloisonné enamelware

The Chinese have been making Cloisonne enamelware since the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). The name comes from the French “cloison” meaning “partition” or “dividing band”. A pattern is made from wire or thin copper strips which is attached to a metal base. The resulting partitions, or cloisons, are filled with enamel and then fired in a kiln. This process is repeated until the cloisons are filled and then the surface is polished smooth. The object is then plated with gold which stops the exposed metal from tarnishing.

Beijing cloisonne enamelware factory

No trip to Beijing is complete without visiting the Beijing Enamel Factory which is the largest producer of cloisonne enamelware in China. You are taken on a fascinating guided tour of the processes involved in creating cloisonne enamelware. After being educated in the finer points of the process you are led (surprise surprise!) to the vast showroom of cloisonne enamelware which is simply breathtaking. I resisted buying but feasted on the beauty of the merchandise.

Step 1 – Making the pattern
Firstly small copper strips are cut and bent into shapes according to the particular design. These strips are then glued to the copper vase with gum. You can see the gum in the closeup photo of part of the design. After the design has been laid out flux is applied and when the vase is heated solder flows around all the joins and fastens the pattern to the vase surface.

cloisonne enamelware copper strips

Cutting and shaping copper strips

cloisonne enamelware strip glueing

Glueing the copper pattern

Detail of glued copper strips

Detail of glued copper strips

Step 2 – Applying the pigments
Next artists fill each cloison with coloured pigments according the the design. These come in a multitude of colours and shades. The vase on the right is ready for firing with its first application of enamel pigments.

Pattern after soldering

Pattern after soldering

Lots of pigments for the pattern

Lots of pigments for the pattern

Vase with first pigment layer

Vase with first pigment layer

Step 3 – Firing the vase
The objects to be fired are placed in a kiln and heated until red hot. The pigments melt and are drawn into the cloisons by capillary action and meld with the metal. The left photo shows the red hot vases when removed from the kiln. When they have cooled (right) the colours of the pigments can be seen.

Glowing red hot just out of the kiln

Glowing red hot just out of the kiln

Colours become apparent as the vase cools

Colours become apparent as the vase cools

Step 4- Filling the cloisons
Steps 2 and 3 are repeated several times until the cloisons have been filled with enamel.

Adding more pigment to the cloisons

Adding more pigment to the cloisons

Applying pigments finished

Applying pigments finished

Step 5 – Polishing
The vase is held firmly in a special lathe and various grades of abrasive blocks are used to smooth the surface. Once the operator is happy with the finish the vase is removed revealing the brilliant finish.

Polishing the vase

Polishing the vase

Finished vase ready for gilding

Finished vase ready for gilding

The last step, which our guide said we couldn’t see because it was a secret process (duh?), was to gild the vase with gold to stop the exposed copper from tarnishing. Electroplating would be expensive and messy so, knowing that the Chinese are masters of mass production, I would say they use the electroless process of gold plating which simply involves immersing the object to be plated in a chemical (albeit toxic) solution for a few minutes. The gold adds the finishing touch to the completed item.

Bamboo Fence Disguise

Fence bamboo disguise

Railings made to look like bamboo

Here is example of a fence in disguise so it looks as if it was made of bamboo. The Chinese are masters of disguise and apply these skills in the most surprising and intriguing of places.

In this case it is in the suburbs of Taipei in Taiwan and it reflects how prevalent and entrenched the imagery of bamboo is to the artistic and cultural heritage of the Chinese psyche.

Bamboo Downpipe Disguise

The former British consulate in the southern Taiwan city of Kaohsiung has an interesting disguise on the buildings gutter downpipes. Someone has gone to a lot of effort and time to disguise the downpipes from the roof gutters to look like bamboo. It’s a nice touch and looks so much better than plain downpipes.

Disguise as Bamboo

There are many instances in Taiwan and China where a little extra effort has gone into decorating otherwise bland everyday objects so they blend into their environment. Bamboo is a popular disguise and many examples abound once you know what to look for. More bamboo disguise can be found here.

Downpipe disguise

Detailed view of downpipe

disguised downpipe

Fake bamboo downpipes

Dragon Motif

Nice dragon motif

Nice dragon corner motif

The dragon motif is an important image to the Chinese. In the southern Taiwan city of Kaohsiung can be found the Lotus Lake which is surrounded by many temples. In one of them, the Beiji Xuantian Shang Di Pavilion (or dark Emporer) can be found this small dragon motif on the side of a flight of stairs.

The interior of the pavilion is richly decorated and is quite a feast for the eyes.

The dragon motif in Taoism

In Taoism, the dragon motif is the symbol for the essence of the spiritual half of the cosmos. The dragon breath in the chaos of the unformed potentials of the Tao and breathes out the order of our very nature.

Modern western culture has focused almost exclusively upon the physical aspects of nature (represented by the tiger), to the degree that the dragon is merely a myth. The dragon motif also symbolises the Yang (male) power while the tiger symbolises Yin (female).

Taoist Dragon

Taoist dragon

Taoist temple dragon

Taoist temples in southern China and Taiwan may often be identified by their roofs, which feature Chinese dragons and phoenix made from multi-colored ceramic tiles. They also stand for the harmony of yin and yang (with the phoenix being yin).

The photo on the right is a nice example of a Taoist dragon statue atop the Quinshan Temple in Taipei. The Taoist temples are very colourful and over the top with their decoration and the Taoist dragon motif is ubiquitous.

Power of the Taoist dragon

The Tao literally means “the way” and can be roughly stated to be the flow of the universe, or the force behind the natural order, equating it with the influence that keeps the universe balanced and ordered.

The Taoist dragon symbolises the Yang or male energy and brings order to the natural world.

Kaohsiung Confucius Temple

Confucius temple lattice

At first glance it looks like wooden lattice

It costs a lot of money for the maintenance of buildings particularly those with important cultural value like the Confucius temple in Kaohsiung. Repairs and replacements need to reflect the original. To save money shortcuts are sometimes made with disastrous results.

Fake lattice at Confucius temple

The Confucius Temple on Lotus Lake in the southern Taiwan city of Kaohsiung is a case in point. What appears to be traditional Chinese lattice on all the doors surrounding the inner quadrangle, on closer inspection, turn out to be thin plywood cut-outs glued either side of perspex windows. They are poorly cut and sealed resulting in the plywood delaminating over time and falling from the windows.

It’s a pity more money wasn’t spent the first time around so the job at the Confucius temple could have been done properly.

Confucius temple plywood lattice

Plywood cutout lattice with perspex

Confucius temple delaminated plywood cutouts

Delaminated plywood cutouts

The Grand Hotel – Taipei

Grand Hotel main building

Grand Hotel main building

The Grand Hotel in Taipei is an imposing classical Chinese building located at Yuan Hill in the Zhongshan district of Taipei. It was was built by Chiang Kai-shek, under the direction of his wife, to treat visiting foreign guests. The Grand Hotel was completed in 1973 and became an instant Taipei landmark.

Grand Hotel extravagance

Exploring the decoration of the Grand Hotel is a visual feast because it is such a wonderful example of classical Chinese “palace-style” design. The huge foyer and grand staircase are overwhelming at first sight.

Below are several decorative items that caught my eye.

Grand hotel Interior courtyard with lattice balustrade and corner brackets

Interior courtyard with lattice balustrade and corner brackets

Grand hotel Connecting corridor decoration

Connecting corridor decoration

Lattice used on a staircase

Lattice used on a staircase

Nice ice ray lattice divider in the foyer

Nice ice-ray lattice divider iin the foyer

No trip to Taipei would be complete without a visit to the Grand Hotel and having some coffee and cake in the smart café in the foyer area.