Feather painting gains popularity in China’s old industrial base

Feather painting gains popularity in China’s old industrial base

This aerial photo taken on Jan. 23, 2023 shows people visiting Huangsi Temple Fair during the Spring Festival holiday in Shenyang, capital of northeast China’s Liaoning Province. (Xinhua/Yang Qing)

SHENYANG, Feb. 16 (Xinhua) — At a studio in Shenyang, northeast China’s Liaoning Province, Kan Dawei carefully pasted selected feathers of various colors and shapes onto a piece of paper with a pair of tweezers, creating an exquisite three-dimensional painting.

This is feather painting. Artists use feathers to embellish roofs, animals and trees to give the impression that the real object is emerging from the painting. Thatched roofs create warmth and evoke homesickness, while furry animals look inviting and tempt observers to touch.

During the Spring Festival holiday this year, Kan’s feather paintings proved popular and became gifts for people to give to their relatives and friends. Since January, Kan has spent more than 10 hours a day painting.

“This ‘zodiac rabbit’ feather painting was the most popular recently. I’ve sold 50 such paintings,” Kan said. “Orders for large feather paintings such as landscapes and animals are at capacity.” His works have also been sold to buyers in European countries like Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.

“In an area of heavy industry in China, we create beautiful works with the lightest feathers,” said Kan Dawei, repeating the words of his father Kan Fei. Kan Dawei added that his father’s words have encouraged him on his 40-year feather painting journey.

In the 1960s, many craftsmen jointly established a feather craft factory. Kan Fei, who loved painting, became a member of the factory. Initially, they used feathers from feather dusters to create paintings of birds in simple colors and lines.

“Despite its simplicity, feather paintings became an important ornament for many Chinese families at that time,” said Kan Dawei. In the 1980s, some feather crafts were exported overseas.

Since then, with China’s reform and opening up, individual private economy developed rapidly. This allowed many craftsmen to leave the factories and plunge into the sea of business by setting up their own studios. Kan Dawei was one of those to follow this route.

“I want to show the world China’s pursuit of craftsmanship excellence through feather painting,” Kan said. “We are not only capable of producing heavy machinery, but also of creating exquisite handicrafts.”

Now, in Kan’s studio, there are both traditional Chinese landscape paintings made of feathers, and pastoral paintings involving oil painting techniques. Themes include landscapes, birds, animals and people. One of the paintings, “Twelve Beauties of Jinling,” based on the classic Chinese novel “A Dream of Red Mansions,” is particularly exquisite. The pretty ancient Chinese ladies depicted in this work were created by using hundreds of colorful feathers, and every facial expression is lifelike.

Kan has introduced feather painting to art classes in schools and universities. He has also started handicrafts training classes for the disabled to help them learn skills and find jobs. Meanwhile, he participated regularly in exhibitions and fairs in Europe with the aim of spreading awareness of this handicraft overseas.

“I hope people around the world will know about this intangible cultural heritage, which originated in Shenyang, China. This is my wish for the new year,” he said. 

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