WHAT: Many cultures have used bird feathers as decorative accessories to denote status, wealth and royalty. Nowhere did this unusual art reach greater heights of aesthetic refinement and creativity than in China. The Kingfisher bird is highly esteemed by the Chinese for its color and celebrated in poetry and song by Chinese from ancient times. Over the centuries, the Kingfisher’s ultramarine to turquoise blue feathers became highly prized and extremely sought after as an inlay in decorative arts. Nations, such as Cambodia, rose and fell on the trade of Kingfisher bird feathers to China. The sheer variety of objects created by the Chinese artisans that were covered with the exquisitely-hued feathers ranged from jewelry, hair ornaments, fingernail covers, landscape panels, sculptures and fans.
HOW is it used? Kingfisher bird feather is used as an inlay in decorative objects.
A skilled Chinese artisan would take a single hair or feather filament from out of the kingfisher’s wing, draw it through a bit of glue and lay it on the silver or metal foundation/framework. Then the artisan will take another hair and lay it beside the first. This process continues endlessly and eye-tiringly until the artisan has laid the filaments from the feathers of the kingfisher’s wings so closely together that they look like a piece of enamel.
Due to the precision and labor-intensive work required for the inlay as well as supply of Kingfisher feathers, the nobility were the only ones able to afford such objects. Gifts of jewelry, jade, pearl and kingfisher feather were given in wealthy homes during the New Year holiday. Noble Chinese women completed their outfit and hairdo by placing kingfisher ornaments and jewelry.
WHEN: The sale of kingfisher accessories and ornaments became forbidden in China. Only antique pieces that already exist today are sold. To trace the evolution of decorative kingfisher work, one must delve into poetry and literature of China. The earliest mention of the kingfisher appears in the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 B.C.) of the Eastern Zhou dynasty. Palaces during the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) were decorated with kingfisher hangings and wall panels. Another way to identify the use of kingfisher feathers in Chinese decorative arts is from ancient paintings but such paintings can only offer hints, not proof.
WHERE: Canton was the center for kingfisher jewelry manufacture, called tian tsui, which means dotting with kingfishers. Cambodian kingfishers were esteemed above all others in the Chinese market, because of their superior sheen and coloring. There flashing and iridescent feathers were shipped to Canton, where they were fashioned into those glittering blue and green tiaras worn by every Chinese bride at her wedding. Other ornaments were used in Chinese opera. The finest kingfisher pieces were worn by the emperor and empress of China.
The Chinese used kingfisher feather in decorative accessories to denote status, wealth and royalty.
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Source: Kingfisher Blue: Treasures of an Ancient Chinese Art by Beverly Jackson
Other Articles: http://www.thecultureconcept.com/circle/chinese-kingfisher-ornaments