Art gallery weaves a tale of cultural history

Yang Yang
A house dating back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) now hosts Songjiang Cloth Art Gallery to celebrate the nation's cotton textile industry. 
Yang Yang
Art gallery weaves a tale of cultural history
Yang Yang / SHINE

The newly opened Songjiang Cloth Art Gallery is a perfect place to experience the district’s ancient cotton cloth culture.

Morning sunshine penetrates the clouds and falls onto the yard of an old house on Cangcheng Old Street in Songjiang District. The light shines on a wiggling dawn redwood and projects its shadow on a white wall.

The house, which dates back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), has been renovated and now hosts Songjiang Cloth Art Gallery. The gallery held a trial run from April 11 to May 10 and will be officially open to the public on June 8.

Songjiang and its surrounding area used to be the nation’s cotton textile industry center in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1648) and the cotton cloth Songjiang produced has enjoyed a nationwide reputation for hundreds of years.

Huang Daopo (1245-1330), a Songjiang native, traveled to the south Hainan region and learned from the Li ethnic minority people their cotton textile techniques. She improved the techniques, brought them back to Songjiang and promoted them until almost every household was spinning and weaving.

As modern industry developed, rural domestic workshops were gradually replaced by textile machines, and handmade cotton cloth gradually faded from people’s everyday lives.

The new cloth art gallery is intended to bring back the cloth culture to Songjiang.

“Handmade Songjiang cotton cloths are loaded with the wisdom of local ordinary people. They are rich in texture and feel tender,” said Yang Panhong, owner of the gallery.

About 10 years ago, Yang and her family members started to collect old Songjiang cotton cloth. They traveled to the district’s Xinbang, Sijing and Xiaokunshan towns, and collected tens of thousands of rolls of old Songjiang cotton cloth.

It occurred to them that they could establish a cloth art gallery and share the cultural icon while recording its history and improving it as a cultural symbol.

Old cotton cloth needs to be revitalized. The first building near the entrance is a cultural products display area. Here old Songjiang cotton cloth is made into jackets, bags and book covers.

A second building is an exhibition hall showcasing different Songjiang cotton cloth including calicos, twill weaves, purple cotton cloth, striped cloth, checks and printed fabrics.

Among the items on display are two highlights of the collection: a coupon from a cloth store printed between the late Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China era (1912-1949), and a cotton carpet with patterns of rural farming life made in the 1950s.

A third building houses several weaving looms with traces of history still on them.

“Elders above the age of 60 might have once woven a piece of cloth, but those mastering complex techniques are fewer. We will invite the elders knowing the weaving techniques to the gallery to fill in the blanks with more detailed Songjing cloth information,” said Yang.

Visitors can also experience silk screen paintings of cloth patterns and tie-dyeing at the gallery’s interactive learning spaces.


Art gallery weaves a tale of cultural history
Yang Yang / SHINE

Fang Yuehong, a gallery staff worker, operates a weaving machine. 

Art gallery weaves a tale of cultural history
Yang Yang / SHINE

He Ping, a gallery staff worker, performs tie-dyeing. 

Art gallery weaves a tale of cultural history
Yang Yang / SHINE

A tailor of the gallery is making clothes. 

Art gallery weaves a tale of cultural history
Yang Yang / SHINE

Some cloth bags produced by the art gallery

Songjiang Cloth Art Gallery

Address: 203 Zhongshan Rd W., Songjiang District

Opening hours: 9am-4pm, Tuesdays-Sundays

How to get there: Gate 3, Zuibai Pond Park Station, Metro Line 9; then take Songjiang No. 13 bus to Shanghai No. 4 Social Welfare Institute Station

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