A master's solo bid to preserve hand-made glassware

 

Xing Lanxiang Photos: Billie Feng

Xing Lanxiang’s studio in Beijing Bai-gong-fang (京城百工坊) is not big. Walking into her studio, visitors can find display cabinets full of exquisitely crafted glassware on both sides, with a worktable hooded with a glass cover in the center of the room.

The skill of making glassware by hand has been listed as an intangible cultural heritage at national level in China; Xing is the only recognized master; and Glassware Xing (料器邢) is the most well-known brand in this field in the country. Without drawing a sketch beforehand, Xing is able to shape melted glass bars into what she wants them to be. Her hands have a magical touch.

The making of hand-made glassware

Xing Lanxiang works on a piece of glassware. 

Glassware is called liaoqi (料器) in Beijing. The name was given by Emperor Qianlong (1711–99). The raw material is glass bars of low melting point. The artisan melts a glass bar with a blowtorch fire and turns the melted glass into any shape with a pair of tweezers and scissors. “Unlike jade carving or paper cutting, the making of glassware products needs the artisan to finish every step correctly and fast. If the melted glass solidifies, all previous efforts would be wasted,” Xing said.

Xing demonstrated how to make a glassware tiger during the interview with sino-us.com. The nearly 70-year-old lady didn’t talk too much when she was working; wearing a pair of reading glasses, she focused all her attention on her hands, which have been roughened by about 50 years’ work on making glassware. “You may get burned if you don’t focus your mind into it,” she said in an earnest tone.

A small tiger is taking shape in Xing's hands.

Xing wielded all the tools in a relaxed but confident manner. In about 10 minutes, a glass bar was turned into a lovely tiger. The tiger wasn’t much bigger than a fingernail, but it possessed all the apparent features of a living one, such as arrogance and aggressiveness.

Xing works without using molds. “When a customer describes something he or she wants, an image comes into my mind and then I can start work on it. Unlike the glassware made by use of molds, every one of my works is customized,” she said. This skill can be attributed to her knowledge of fine arts.

The finished glassware tiger


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