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C. L. Ma Collection: Traditional Chinese Furniture from the Greater Shanxi Region PDF Print E-mail

by Curtis Evarts, Published by C. L. Ma Furniture, Hong Kong 1999

I love this book! I love it as it contains three insights that I have not seen elsewhere. First, Ming and Qing furniture were made with woods other than the well known huanghuali, zitan, and chicken wing woods, which are considered "hardwood" in China. Second, there is a difference between the Chinese and Western definitions of "hardwood" and "softwood." "...Western vernacular, wherein "softwood" implies soft coniferous woods like pine, fir and cedar, and "hardwood" implies wood from deciduous trees of varying hardness like walnut, cherry, and oak – these latter examples are classified as softwoods in the Chinese tradition." Third, nails are used in early Chinese furniture construction. Nails are used to "...attach table aprons to the underside of their tabletops and to the legs. Standing spandrels are frequently attached with nails at the top. Deep humpback stretchers are also attached to the aprons above with nails..."

In addition to these three insights, this book points up the issue of dating furniture and does so succinctly. "The dating of Chinese furniture is an inexact science. Provenance is rarely known, and dated inscriptions are rarely found. Most dating is attributed by comparison with known benchmarks, and by inference through secondary evidence. Because of the continuity as well as the varieties of style that existed simultaneously, furniture cannot be dated according to form alone."

The pictures in this book are all in color, with the accompanying text on the facing page. The reader can easily move from text to picture and back again without page turning. The bulk of the book is comprised of pictures and accompanying text of 148 items from Mr. Ma's collection.

The book begins with a text section covering the following topics:

I. The Heritage of Shanxi Furniture
II. Decoration and Style
III. Lacquer
IV. Traditional Furniture-Making Woods and Secondary Materials
V. Construction
VI. Dating

These chapters are well written and easily understood. Although most furniture items catalogued are earlier than the 19th century, the book serves as an excellent reference point for the furniture forms made later in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

I have used this book a lot as a reference. It is also suitable for one who just wants to revel in the beauty of this furniture in "as found" condition. The book can be acquired through Paragon Books in Chicago.