Rootwood with plank seat
38 1/4 x 30 1/2 x 21 1/2 in.

 Qing dynasty, Peabody Essex Museum

Carved By Nature: Untamed Traditions in Chinese Decorative Art

On view July 27, 2004 to August 13, 2006

Located in the: Special Exhibition Galleries

The Peabody Essex Museum presents Carved by Nature: Untamed Traditions in Chinese Decorative Art,an exhibition of more than 40 artworks including furniture, sculpture, decorative objects, and paintings, that celebrate the aesthetics of pure organic forms created from old gnarled trees and tree roots.

Objects made from naturally contorted wood have been appreciated in China for millennia. These organic forms appealed to Buddhists and Daoists seeking to convey an attitude of humility and an affinity with nature. The untamed character of the objects could be seen as a symbol of the rejection of opulence, in favor of beauty beyond human control. In later centuries, scholar-aesthetes found the rustic features of the gnarled wood reminiscent of ancient trees that symbolized the wisdom of sages. During the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), fantastic wood forms appealed to the flamboyant tastes of the period, and many wealthy Chinese collectors surrounded themselves with furnishings of twisted wood.

At the heart of this exhibition is an appreciation for discovering beauty in unexpected places or things. Akin to the collecting of strange rocks-a popular pastime among many Chinese connoisseurs-there was a passion for aesthetically pleasing yet contorted forms of wood in China. In some of the objects, little is done to enhance the natural beauty of the gnarled wood. In others, an artist has worked the hollows and knotted grains to bring out certain imagery?often mountainous landscapes, figures, or animals?but with remarkably little evidence of human intervention. Most of the works in Carved by Nature date from the Qing dynasty. Roots and knotted branches are still used in China to create furniture and sculptural pieces.

Further Reading