Monthly Archives: May 2011

Miriam Slater: Tortoiseshell Combs

I do not know what to do with myself when I see what artist Miriam Slater has collected. My mind basically goes blank. However, my jaw does recover within the hour. Here are two picks from the tortoiseshell part of her Edo collection. The first wedding set features a tortoise and a crane, symbolizing stability and freedom. The second has the scroll of wisdom.

Manchu China

In 1644, the Northern Manchurians conquered China, defeating the ethnic Hans in the South. They named their dynasty Qing, meaning clear, as the Hans’ Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) ended. While the Manchurians integrated with the Chinese, many rebellions and tribal wars took place. In 1912, the Manchus lost power to the Republic of China.

Thank you to Jiarui Lu for sending in the correct scholarship. “Today, the Manchu, or Man Nation is one of 56 nations of China. The original place is northeast of China, and now most of “Man” people live in Liaoning province, Jilin province and Heilongjiang province of China.”

However, during the Qing Dynasty, the Manchu comb makers created outstanding three-dimensional hair ornaments with kingfisher feathers, as well as coral, amber, and jade. They were supposed to bring their royal wearers good luck.

Here are two examples. The first is from the Creative Museum’s Asian Collection. The second is mine. I got it on E-bay from a woman whose seaman father brought it home from China in the 1920’s.

The stark contrast between what the Manchurians made for themselves and what they made for Victorian England reinforces China’s understanding of the West. I think they still understand us better than we will ever understand them. However, looking at these hair combs, I cannot help but ask, “Can reflection, caution, patience, and discipline supersede courage, freedom of thought, and innovation?”

Photographing Combs

I am working with lights, a friend’s instructions, flashes, oh my God there is so much to think about… :-) Here are four comb pictures from my collection. The first is a Chinese ivory export comb for the Victorian market, c. 1890. The second is a Chinese hair stick with a blonde shell bird on top. Last is a Japanese Meiji ivory set in perfect condition, which depicts flowers blowing in the wind. Enjoy!