Tag Archives: Asian Art Celebration

Monkeying Around with a Meiping Vase

Jingdezhen kilns. Meiping with Lotus Decoration. c. 1500. Origin: Jiangxi province, China. Gift of William C. Whitridge, Stevenson, Maryland. BMA 1979.126

Jingdezhen kilns. Meiping with Lotus Decoration. c. 1500. Origin: Jiangxi province, China. Gift of William C. Whitridge, Stevenson, Maryland. BMA 1979.126

Melanie Lester, Goh’s Kung Fu

This Sunday, students and instructors from Goh’s Kung Fu will perform a lion dance and martial arts demonstration on the BMA’s iconic stairs for the Museum’s Asian Art Celebration. We have partnered with a team of visual artists from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) to produce props and costumes for the show. (Full disclosure – I teach at both schools.)

Choosing the right artwork for the performance
When we first started planning the performance we knew that we wanted to include visual elements pulled from pieces in the collection.

Because fragile artworks and martial arts don’t always go together we decided to recreate this Meiping vase out of foam. The foam replica vase is a catalyst for the narrative of our show. It entices the monkey character, gets stolen, and angers our sleepy lions into action. The show culminates when the vase is returned finally and the lions have a joyous celebratory dance.

This is not something you’d want to do with a 500 year old porcelain vase.

This is not something you’d want to do with a 500 year old porcelain vase.

The Meiping vase stood out to us for a few reasons: jugs and vases have historically been used in certain styles of Chinese kung fu (like drunken styles), the large motif would be easily visible to the audience, and the lotus symbol on the vase sometimes represents qualities martial artists strive to gain from their practice, such as longevity, humility, honor and tranquility.

Making the Vase
The first steps were to come up with a pattern and decide on materials. Kevin Law used open source software to create a 3D model of the vase.

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Goh’s Kung Fu recently built a new space for our martial arts studio and had leftover foam from the floor that we were able to recycle for this project. It is the perfect material because it is lightweight and durable.

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Foam proved to be the perfect base.

After we cut and shaped the vase in foam we painted a base coat.

After we cut and shaped the vase in foam we painted a base coat.

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While we were working we kept an image of the actual Meiping vase and tried to stay true to its shape.

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We sanded and painted several times to seal the surface of the foam.

Jhenny Adams meticulously copied the motif.

Jhenny Adams meticulously copied the motif.

Jhenny blocked in colors and shapes first and then went back to add detail.

Jhenny blocked in colors and shapes first and then went back to add detail.

With paints leftover from other projects and purchased with a generous grant from the Office of Community Engagement at the Maryland Institute College of Art we made the piece of foam look as close to the Meiping vase as possible.

This is our monkey character played by Nicholas Wright-Sieloff doing an aerial while holding the vase during rehearsal.

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I hope to see you at the show!

Thanks to the BMA for letting us share some of our process during the build for this performance. Thank you to Goh’s Kung Fu for having amazing martial artists to work with. And thank you to the MICA Office of Community Engagement for funding the supplies used to create our visual elements.

The BMA’s Asian Art Celebration will be held from 11am – 5pm on Sunday, June 28th, 2015. All are welcome to attend this fun-filled day of music, dance performances, and activities inspired by the newly renovated galleries for the Asian art collection.

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Melanie Lester began teaching costume and other garment related topics at the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2006.  She started practicing kung fu at Goh’s Kung Fu in 2005.  Though seemingly very different fields, both garment construction and martial arts require similar repetition and practice to achieve even the slightest improvement.  “Focus, repetition and practice” is the mantra behind all of Melanie Lester’s teaching philosophy.