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Taking a stand - where craft and beauty matter

THE art and craft of antique furniture often supersede the original purpose of the object. Traditional Chinese flower stands are a case in point. Nie Xin admires. Today's antique collectors of Chinese furniture are not generally looking for a practical side.

The art and craft involved in these ornate and often intricate pieces are treasured far beyond their utilitarian purposes.

Take the hua ji, the flower table or flower stand.

"Actually I don't really know what this is for," says Han Yu who has some antiques at home but is unsure of their original purpose. One of his favorites is a tall delicate flower stand.

"It might be furniture but it doesn't seem to have a real purpose, except for its delicate craftsmanship and aged appearance," says the 26-year-old.

The flower stand was made in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Han's father Han Junting, an antique collector, bought it from an antique store 12 years ago, and gave it to his son as a wedding present.

Standing 1.2 meters high with five slim long "legs," it's all made from redwood. The top of the stand can accommodate a good-sized flowerpot or vase and a simple shelf below can fit a smaller pot.

Han Junting paid 10,000 yuan (US$1,460) for it. But as the price of antiques has risen sharply in recent years, the market price of this flower stand is now worth at least three times of that.

"I hope my son will leave it to his son. I believe that this kind of antique furniture with fine craftsmanship will keep its value and become a family treasure," says the collector father.

Chinese antique flower stands have various styles and can be made of different woods.

Flower stands can be round or square although round stands are usually smaller.

The patterns on the shelf and legs are usually the common jiao teng, a twisting which is very traditional for antique furniture.

Some of the most delicate wood carvings can be found here of figures, flowers, birds and clouds. Some even have stories told in pictures.

The more complex and delicate the patterns are, the more valuable the stands will be.

Late Qing Dynasty craftsmen perfected these ornate and beautiful styles. Flower stands from this time are also considered the most beautiful and artistically worthy.

Square-shaped flower stands are usually taller, on average 1.6 meters, and have four legs.

"These are always put in the living room to show off the wealth of the family. The round stands are usually kept in the bedroom," says Lu Maofeng, an expert and collector of Chinese antiques, and the owner of several antique stores in Shanghai.

From the 20th century, Chinese craftsmen started to make flower stands influenced by Western styles.

The most obvious difference is that the top of Chinese stand is flat, but Western flower stand is shaped like a flowerpot.

"Chinese flower stand is more like a display table with a flat surface. People in olden days not only put flowerpots, but also vases, stones and other items on it," Lu says.

Most flower stands are made of redwood or rosewood. Some earlier pieces from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) used yin wood (autumn wood) for the stand top.

Stands made with redwood are generally darker and smoother. The pieces made of rosewood appear dark yellow.

According to Lu, a pair of flower stands made in the Qing Dynasty could be worth between 30,000 yuan and 50,000 yuan. Stands from the Ming Dynasty can be worth several hundred thousand yuan.


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