Miao Fabric Painting
Yan Jin
Huatan, Hunan
Heritage
Fabric Decoration

Our satellite navigation system had long given up and according to the maps we were now driving across fields. Our destination was a meeting with Yan Jin, a renowned Miao fabric painter. With his careful directions, and a helpful passing motorcyclist we were finally guided to the little causeway across Yan Jin’s rice fields to his farm house where he waited, smiling, on the veranda. Set against a hill with fresh snow on the roofs and surrounded by paddies where ducks swam and sang, we had stepped back to a simpler, more beautiful time. Ushered into the dark, high ceilinged old farm house we were seated by a roaring fire above which hung smoked meat while Yan Jin proudly brought out samples of his exquisite fabric painting. Most of his work was for door, window and bed curtains, a traditional wedding gift for Miao people. These gifts were only passed within the family and the painters passed on their skills only to sons. He also painted on costumes and wedding gowns. His bright, naive-style images of birds, flowers, fruits and dragons closely followed the popular style of Miao embroidery seen in Guizhou and Hunan and celebrating nature and their romantic, optimistic world view. Much of his best work had been appropriated for a show in the city, but he had enough pieces to show us that he was an artist of rare talent. In this area over three-quarters of the people have Miao heritage, so their culture runs deep. Yan Jin had also written a beautifully illustrated book, unfortunately now out of print, chronicling and categorising ancient and traditional paint and embroidery designs.
 
Later he guided us to his studio where piles of rolled-paper designs, paints and brushes fought for space on the wooden table where he worked by the natural light from the window overlooking his beloved farm. After showing us many of the drafts he had designed over the years, he offered to draw something for us. On a whim we asked for a dragon, so on a fresh sheet of paper he began with his pencil. A beautiful dragon emerging from clouds was swiftly created, the strokes flowing freely from his hand.  Yan Jin received almost no formal art training after primary school, so his amazing talent is entirely natural and innate. As the setting sun reflected itself in the wet fields we were invited back to the blazing fire where his wife and daughter-in-law had prepared a meal for us - a tradition for guests that he insisted upon. His farm-worn hands served tasty meats, aromatic rice and vegetables, all organically grown right around the house. An amazing day came to an end in the warm glow of the hospitality of a beautiful Miao family, a proud farmer and an inspiring artist.

 

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