Mastering A Lost Art
Art of Embroidery at Guanqin Gallery
The tradition of hand-embroidering shoes traces back some 2700 years in China, but 75-year-old Wang Guanqin may well be the last artisan practising the craft in Beijing. A skill that was passed down through four generations of the Wang family, shoe embroidery is now considered by many to be a lost art, made obsolete by modern convenience. As one of a precious few who have been honoured with the title ‘Master-hand of Handicraft’ by China’s Ministry of Culture, Wang’s greatest fear is that the tradition should die with her, and since 2007 she has been busy writing a history book as well as teaching embroidery classes the old-fashioned way.
Having made her first pair of butterfly and flower-emblazoned shoes at the tender age of 9, the needle quickly thereafter became her passion. After a career spent working in a factory that manufactured shoes, she now teaches classes from her Dongcheng gallery and studio, where students can learn the start-to-finish process of painstakingly constructing the soles, matching the colours, and stitching the patterns, all the while enjoying her tales of a bygone era, when one’s shoes still dictated one’s status. With time and patience, you too can hold this unique piece of China’s past, which makes for a stunning souvenir not soon to be forgotten.