Crafts on Peel is a not for profit creative art space founded by arts and culture patron Yama Chan, to promote collab­oration between traditional craftsmen and contem­porary artisans, and in fostering a better appreciation and understanding of traditional craft and its value in cultural heritage and identity.

Traditional crafts play a vital role in societies, providing a creative expression of culture and community, however, sadly many traditional trades and crafts have already become obsolete, with others are at risk of dying out; hence the urgent need to preserve and document cultural legacies before they become extinct.

Crafts on Peel is located in a beautifully revitalised five-story heritage tenement building on Peel Street. In which a wonderfully sympathetic intervention from Architect Annette Chu of Eureka is a modern interpretation of an old walk-up that brings the building bang up to date while retaining original features and authentic charm. 

Through exhibitions and experiential workshops, Crafts on Peel hope to revive and perpetuate traditional art and craft while reinterpreting them within a contemporary context that connects history with the future along with a continuation of heritage and storytelling.

An Artisan-in-Residence program aims to generate exchange and dialogue across generations and regions and enhance Hong Kong craftsmanship quality and diversity. On the second floor, the artist studio includes an elevated mezzanine bed, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a workspace, with a retracting partition to close it off for privacy. 

Fittingly this idea follows the tradition of the apprentice living in the artists workshop, and of families of past generations who took care of the shops on the ground floor, and lived above. The living space is provided for the artists selected for the year-round artisan-in-residence program.

The inaugural exhibition, Crafts Interwoven: Past and Present, opened on 18th January 2020. Crafts on Peel invited six contemporary artists to collaborate with traditional craftsmen to explore how traditional skills and techniques can be reinterpreted within a contemporary artistic context. Jinno Neko, Dylan Kwok, Lawrence Ting, Anthony So, Singchin Lo, and Joey Leung were paired with Cheung Foon on bamboo framework crafting and papier-mâché, Chan Lok-choi on birdcage crafting; the Luk brothers Shu-choi and Keung-choi on copperware; and Joseph Tso Chi-chung on Cantonese porcelain painting.  

Works by porcelain painter Lam Duen Shan Ming and fashion designer Polly Ho were also exhibited. The exhibition also presents artworks inspired by bamboo steamer crafting, Canton porcelain, and Chinese knots. The cooperation allowed the contemporary artists to attain specialised skills to further enhance their work in the future.

Contemporary Artisan, and fashion graduate Jinno Neko's interest in Japanese folk-art culture led her to work with papier mâché, and in integrating bamboo crafting techniques into her wearable creations, adding a modern twist to traditional Chinese and Japanese papercrafts. Taking the Japanese folk toy dog "Inu Hariko" as her inspiration for creating the Jinno dog, also known as "Jinno Inu," and integrating bamboo crafting techniques into her creations.  Jinno paired with Master Cheung Foon, a Lion and Kirin head Bamboo Craftsman who has enjoyed drawing since he was young, and who, twenty years ago, apprenticed in lion head bamboo crafting with a Master, but it was only in 2016 that he started crafting lion and kirin heads again. He relies solely on his instinct and experience, without using any sketches, to craft out the head's bamboo frame. 

Master Cheung Foon lists talent, concentration, and patience as the prerequisite for becoming a bamboo crafting and papier-mâché master, and believes, “An excellent lion head should embody the characteristics of "spiritual," "symmetrical," with an "upright appearance."

The Jinno Neko / Cheung Foon collaboration piece, "Reborn Merman," depicts the Hong Kong half-man, half-fish mythical creature. Cheungs traditional Lion Head, and Jinno's contemporary Fish Tail, constructed in six pieces interweave conceptual, contemporary design with traditional craftsmanship. The piece is fully wearable following the exhibitions précis -that the pieces have practical usage rather than be solely art exhibits. 

During the exhibition, Jinno held weekend workshops in paper lantern techniques - using bamboo crafting and papier-mâche techniques common to traditional festivals and religious ceremonies related objects, such as papier-mâche firecrackers, Lion and Dragon dance masks. 

Long regarded as the King of All Animals," the Lion is the most commonly seen auspicious beast in Chinese culture; it symbolises bravery, royalty, and protection, and embodies wisdom, and strength. Lion dance takes place during Chinese New Year and other traditional Chinese cultural and religious festivals and important occasions, such as inaugural business ceremonies, special celebrations, and weddings. Before the lion dance's commencement, there is a "lion awakening ritual."

The officiating guest conducts the ceremony and dot the Lion's eyes with cinnabar, which symbolises life-giving. The traditional lion dance is often confused with dragon dance; the simple distinction is that lion dance usually has two dancers and has a tail. The dragon dance is longer and handled by more people by bamboo poles. The basic dance steps of Chinese lion dance reference Chinese martial arts. 

It usually takes 13-15 working days to make a Foshan lion in traditional bamboo crafting and papier-mâche technique, where bamboo strips are bound with paper wraps to create the skeleton, then tissue paper or satin is applied. Next the colour is painted onto the model, and decorations such as felt balls and tassels complete the head. The proportion, colour schemes, painting, and decoration are all critical in the process. The Pom Poms are specially made in China. 

Jinno is currently working on a collaboration with the Tai Hang Gallery, Moon of Silence Gallery, to be exhibited as an adjunct to the Mid-Autumn Festival.  

Craft on Peels, second exhibition IMAGINE THE "IM" POSSIBILITIES: BAMBOO celebrates traditional bamboo crafts' reinvention. New works from Jinno will on show.

26 September - 31 December 2020.

On Sept 26, Jinno Neko has a Mid-Autumn Bamboo Lantern-making Workshop, at Crafts on Peel.

Images credit: Craft on Peel and Susan Corner

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Anji Connell is an interior architect, garden designer and self-proclaimed nomad who regularly writes about art, design, lifestyle and travel from her globe-trotting adventures. Known for her bubbly persona and even more exuberant sense of style, Anji's portfolio spans everything from interior styling to furniture and landscape design for some of the world's most beautiful spaces. For now, you will find her @anjiconnell_acidplus and anjiconnellinteriordesign.com bingeing on future travel plans from her designer chair.

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