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Arts and crafts in old longtang

THE renovated Jing'an Villa longtang community is filled with inviting galleries and nooks offering courses in flower making, jewelry designing, cookie baking, tea culture and wine tasting. Xu Wei reports.

Wu Di, a young professional with an arts organization, has wearied of the usual partying, dining and karaoke. She now likes more tranquil pastimes, like making artificial flowers and painting T-shirts.

"I like do-it-yourself workshops such as flower making - they are calming and are perfect for young white collars who need time out," she says.

Wu attends a DIY jewelry- and accessory-making workshop by Japanese handicraft artist Hiroko Ibuki at the Plum gallery/cafe in an old shikumen (stone-gated) building on Nanjing Road W. There are also occasional longtang (alleyway) concerts and small screenings of independent films.

Workshops are held on Thursdays and Sundays. Registration is required.

The small inviting gallery is part of the renovated Jing'an Villa longtang area where there are many other kinds of classes.

In preparation for the World Expo 2010, the area got a big makeover, with modern amenities, faux brick facades, concrete lanes to replace paving stones, decorative medallions and other features. It also aims to attract Expo tourists who want to visit traditional longtang communities.

Jing'an Villa offers many workshops: oil painting, folk art and crafts, wine tasting, tea culture, baking, gemmology and jewelry design, among others.

Students can learn how to make kites, windmills and traditional cloth shoes, while the nearby Hypo Cafe is a gathering place for many amateur photographers.

Many are hosted by the city's colleges and educational institutes and some run for several months.

Close to nature

For instance, a tea culture workshop teaches students how to judge the quality of the tea by the color, fragrance and flavor, and make the whole tea-drinking process an art.

The amateur gemmology courses offer urbanites a rare chance to really get in touch with nature's gems.

"Compared with our predecessors who lived in a less modern world, we are materially rich and spiritually poor," says Zhang Lei, a 30-year-old office worker who attended a tea culture class. "People are gradually losing their way in the pursuit of money and status. Fortunately these workshops slow down life's pace and help me find peace of mind."

At the Plum gallery, the flower-making course was inspired by Ibuki's exhibition of delicate paper blooms in March. She received so many compliments and questions about how to make them that she and the gallery decided to get serious.

"It was difficult at first as we needed clippers and pincers to work with small materials," Wu says, "but when I finished making the cute cherry cell phone strap and necklace on my own, I felt so happy and fulfilled."

Hisako Aida, a Japanese housewife, is also enthusiastic.

"Unlike many other do-it-yourself jewelry courses, Ibuki designs the items herself in bright colors and interesting designs. They are high quality and you can wear them, keep them or send to your friends as gifts," she says.

Crafts classes have become more popular in Shanghai of late, but Ibuki notes that such classes have been popular in Japan since her grandmother's generation.

"Handicrafts are part of the curriculum of Japanese middle schools; about two hours a week students learn cooking, knitting and basic housework," Ibuki says.

"However, as far as I know, many Chinese girls never have a chance to do that at school. That's why I came to Shanghai. I hope to revive this beautiful handicraft tradition among local young people," she says.

According to Nicole Teng, curator and manager of Plum gallery, the aim is to change stereotypical ideas about art galleries.

"The city is not lacking in high-level art museums and galleries, but many times people feel distant and disconnected to them," Teng says. "As an artist, I strongly feel that art is not an isolated genre. It comes from life and its value will be maximized when it is integrated with the lives of people."

Jing'an Villa

Information about classes

Tel: 6223-3787, 5382-8845

Hiroko Ibuki's classes

Date: August 21, 1pm

Address: Bldg 37, 1025 Nanjing Rd W.

Cost: 200 yuan for two hours

Tel: 5213-6565


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