An Asian Fancy

By Karen Parr-Moody


One of the GasLamp Too booths, T-504, is currently filled with a fine-tuned assortment of Asian finery, including art, kimonos, vases and hand-painted umbrellas. To make matters more exciting, she is offering 25 percent off of the lowest price of everything – and she has marked many items down significantly already.


Two such items are some silk Chinese children’s hats. Such hats were typically made by Chinese nationals known as “the minority peoples” of certain Chinese northern and southwest provinces.


These two silk hats date to the late 1800s and are hand-sewn with embroidered silk appliqué and the three-dimensional faces of dragons (photo, right; $50, marked down from $95).


Like all Chinese minority hats, these would have been made by a child’s mother for the same purpose: To provide protection from demons, evil spirits and ghosts. Such hats were also thought to foster important qualities in the child who wore them, including academic success, happiness, wealth, health, courage, long life, grace and beauty.


The cap at left cap has a longer, scalloped flap at the back (photo, left; $60, marked down from $95).


I asked a friend to translate the symbols on one hat and discovered they mean “an ocean of blessings” or even “abundant blessings.” On the inside of each hat, someone has also written, in pencil, what appears to be a translation on the lining. One says, “May the baby live as long as the southern mountain” and the other says, “May the baby be as happy as the eastern sea.” I wish I knew more behind this story.


Children still wear such hats in the more isolated regions today, but most hats of this genre ceased being made in the mid-20th century. An excellent source of information on this genre is “Stories of Chinese Children's Hats, Symbolism and Folklore” by Phylis Lan Lin & Christi Lan Lin.


The abacus seen in the photo, below right, is a glamorous version of the calculating tool that has been in use for centuries, even before the adoption of the written modern numeral system ($50, marked down from $95). It dates from around 1890 to 1920 and is enclosed in a silk-lined paper box. The abacus is still used in China and Japan by merchants, and experts think it might be one reason why Asian children excel at math. They are taught to use the abacus from an early age, and it is thought to prove them with a deep understanding of math. (The New York Times says it is estimated Asian students have at least a two-year start over American children due to this advantage.)


Like so many mid-century makers of ceramic wall pockets and vases, Royal Copley produced these items in figures galore, from blackamoors to cats to birds. Asian figures were another big category produced by Royal Copley, and this charming young girl from the 1950s is one such example (photo, below left; $25). She wears a conical hat, which is traditional in many Asian countries and has been around for 2,500 to 3,000 years (in China, it is called a dǒulì).


The laborer in this 1960s acrylic painting, below right, reminds one of scenes that play out in Asia every day, for tending a rice paddy is a 365-day-a-year job (two-by-three-foot painting, $195). He has fashioned a special yoke to carry water to the paddy and he wears the traditional conical hat of Asia.


I love decorating a home with a style I call “Eclectic Traveler,” which is all about collecting and displaying items that remind you of the many cultures of this planet. You may have found such objects yourself, or you may have found them in antique stores such as GasLamp. Either way, such items are simply unmatched in imbuing a home with character.




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