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New Chinese site about marbling

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  • Jake Benson
    This Chinese language site features the work of Kuo-tsai Wang of Taiwan. If you click on the images, a
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 14, 2007
      This Chinese language site features the work of Kuo-tsai Wang of Taiwan.


      If you click on the images, a new window pops up with the enlarged image.

      If you read Chinese, the description of "liu sha" note-paper (流沙箋)
      mentioned in the 10th century compilation "Wen Fang Si Pu" (文房四譜
      Four Treasures of the Scholar's Study) is transcribed. This
      compilation was completed by the Song dynasty Scholar-Official Su
      Yijian (蘇æ˜"ç°¡)in about 986 CE. We have no idea just where Su yikian
      obtained this description. So we do not know how old it is. I am
      still not entirely convinced that this the text specifically describes
      a method for floating color, but perhaps a precursor to what we think
      of as marbling today.

      I've reproduced it below as a test to see if Chinese characters will
      come through our group email.

      人物,ç `之為雲霞及鷙鳥翎羽之狀,繁縟可愛,以紙布其上而受采焉。必須虛窗

      Dr. T.H. Tsien was the first to suggest that marbled paper
      manufacture may have originated in China. He published a reference to
      the 10th century compilation Wen Fan Si Pu (Four Treasures of the
      Scholar’s Study) by the Song dynasty Scholar-Official Su Yijian that
      described varieties of decorative stationary made in Sichuan.

      “Another kind was 'drifting sand notepaper' (liu sha chien), the
      design of which was printed from a flour paste sprinkled with various
      colours, over which the paper was placed to become stained; thus the
      design was free and irregular. Sometimes, paste was prepared from
      honey locust pods (Gleditschiia sinensis) mixed with croton oil and
      water, with black and coloured inks on its surface. Colours were
      scattered when ginger was added and gathered if dandruff was applied
      with a hair brush. The various designs which looked like human
      figures, clouds, or flying birds were transferred from the surface of
      the liquid to the paper, and in this way a marbled paper was made.'
      Western authorities have set the origin of watermarks in + 1282 in
      Europe, and of marbled paper in 1550 as 'a Persian invention', but the
      literary record as well as existing specimens show that the Chinese
      made such papers at least three to five hundred years earlier” (Tsien,
      94). To illustrate this claim, Dr. Tsien provided images of 4 samples
      of decorative paper that he stated were “marbled”. (Tsien, 95)

      I have posted the image that Dr. Tsien published in a folder about
      Chinese marbling in the group photo album. If you have a minute, take
      a look and tell me what you think- are they actually marbled papers?

      The first sample of "tiger skin" appears to be what I am told is
      called An-jing paper, that is still made in Anhui today. A sheet of
      Xuan paper is colored, and crushed ice is immediately placed over the
      freshly colored sheet and allowed to melt, leaving fuzzy white spots.
      The second and third samples of "betel-nut" appear to be a related
      and employ a kind of resist. These bear as strong resemblance to
      papers produced in the 19th century in Europe, known as “coulé” in
      French. The last appears to be a sample of paper that has been
      sprinkled with gold and colors?

      In 1987, the author Barry McKay published an English translation of
      the text, which according to the footnote, was provided to the author
      by the French co-author of the book Le Papier Marbré, Stéphane Ipert
      (McKay, 61). Ipert provided no source for his translation and it is
      unclear as to whether he completed this translation himself, or if he
      relied on other scholars whom he failed to properly credit. In a
      letter addressed to the late marbling artist Christopher Weimann,
      Ipert implies that he has compiled a translation made by various
      authors, whom he states were not aware of the method for paper
      marbling (Ipert, 1986). Hence it seems likely that Ipert compiled
      and synthesized this English translation as a result of a subjective

      “A method consists of mixing sour flour paste with different colours
      on which the paper is laid so as to soak it with the colours. One lets
      it dry until it looks nice, and thus it is called liu sha chien
      [floating sand paper]. Another method consists of preparing a broth of
      locust tree pods (Gleditschina sinensis) to which is added cotton oil.
      This is thrown onto the surface of the water and the colours are
      subsequently sprinkled over it. If ginger is thrown upon it, or if
      dandruff is sprinkled over them with a brush made out of wildcat
      whiskers, it will cause the colours to spread. One then draws shapes
      such as human figures, clouds, or birds in flight. The motifs are
      intricate and charming. The paper is then laid upon the colours and
      picks them up. To reach the artistic height, one must work in a quiet
      chamber looking out of the window, having clear water and a clean
      basin.” (Mckay 15-16)

      Then an additional comment is added immediately afterwards: “This
      latter phrase may also be translated as gazing at a crystal lake.”
      (McKay 16)

      Richard Wolfe made a reference to Dr. Tsien’s publication in his 1990
      publication Marbled Paper. A number of subsequent practical marbling
      manuals stated that marbling was invented in China. Altogether,
      these publications helped to cement the idea that marbling was a
      Chinese invention in the minds of practicing Western paper marblers.

      A lack of a true scholarly reading of the original text, combined
      with a dearth of evidence for paper marbling in China has not helped
      clarify matters. Is this text a reference to a kind of decorative
      paper that is still made today, but the paper is just not a floating
      color process? While a number of publications have claimed that liu
      sha paper is a form of marbled paper, is this a forgone conclusion?

      Adding further complexity to the discussion, the Chinese character liu
      "flow, or drift" , is identical to "naga" (as in sumi- NAGA- shi)
      meaning "float" in Japanese. While these characters are identical, do
      they really hold the same meaning?

      Liu Sha Jian "Drifting Sand notepaper":

      Suminagashi "Floating Ink":

      Liu in Chinese and Naga in Japanese:

      There are still many questions that need to be answered before we can
      state conclusively that paper marbling is of Chinese origin. It would
      help to have specific evidence to effectively demonstrate that a type
      of floating color decorative paper existed. Perhaps this liu sha
      paper is a precursor or an ancestor to marbling? Does it describe a
      kind of “drizzled-slurry” paper, similar to what is called "norigami"
      (糊紙 which literally means "paste-paper") in Japanese, or what the
      French call coulé? Or is the method described one in which colors are
      floated on a liquid surface, which is the common definition for what
      constitutes “marbled paper”?

      Without that evidence, the oldest datable form of floating color
      marbling is Japanese suminagashi. The earliest examples of Central
      Asian sized-based marbling date to the late 15th, early 16th century.

      I invite anyone interested to discuss this topic on or off-list.

      Jake Benson
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