An Apprenticeship in Chinese Lion Head Restoration


ACTA - Posted on 24 January 2012

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Text and photos by Russell Rodríguez, Interim Apprenticehsip Program Manager

Master martial artist and lion head maker Corey Chan (left) and his 2011 apprentice Chris Low.The practice of hiding or masquerading identity, culture, and resistance from the dominant powers of society has been a constant through time.  Corey Chan, a master artist in ACTA's Apprenticeship Program in 2011, explained that in China during a dynasty of oppressive rule, martial arts were prohibited to reduce the risk of insurgence.  People who resisted the ruling power practiced martial arts under the guise of the lion dance.  In later times, the convergence of these traditions remained significant to the point that only the best students of martial arts schools were allowed to perform the lion dance.  Chan explained that currently many lion dancers are learning the dance without committing to studying martial arts.  Consequently, different aspects of the dance are now being lost, specifically dances that display manipulation of weapons and tools.

Chan, a master in martial arts and the lion dance, has also invested much time and effort in learning the cultural history of this tradition.  Additionally, he has developed a vast understanding of the process, artistry, and tradition of creating the props (specifically the lion head) that coincide with the lion dance.  Through the Apprenticeship Program, Chan guided apprentice Chris Low in restoring an older, damaged lion head.  Low, a talented and committed disciple of martial arts and the lion dance, has worked diligently in documenting the process of restoration.

ACTA invites you to read Chris Low’s significant blog that shares, first-hand, the experience of his apprenticeship and an in-depth view of the work that he and Chan have accomplished.

The lion head that Chan and Low restored is currently on display at the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum, as part of the Speak of Good Things: Nianhua and Chinese Folk Tradition exhibit that will run through March 2012.  For more information visit the museum's website.

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An Apprenticeship in Chinese Lion Head Restoration

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A lion head in need of a bit more papering during the restoration process by master artist Corey Chan (Photo: Russell Rodríguez)

A lion head in need of a bit more papering during the restoration process by master artist Corey Chan and his 2011 apprentice Chris Low.

A lion head in the process of restoration by master artist Corey Chan (Photo: Russell Rodríguez)

A lion head in the process of restoration by master artist Corey Chan and his 2011 apprentice Chris Low.

A lion head stripped down to the frame, in the process of being restored by master artist Corey Chan (Photo: Russell Rodríguez)

A lion head stripped down to the frame, in the process of being restored by master artist Corey Chan and his 2011 apprentice Chris Low.

Apprentice Chris Low and two lion heads being restorted by himself and master artist Corey Chan (Photo: Russell Rodríguez)

Apprentice Chris Low and two lion heads being restorted by himself and master artist Corey Chan.

Back view of a lion head being restored by master artist Corey Chan (Photo: Russell Rodríguez)

Back view of a lion head being restored by master artist Corey Chan and his 2011 apprentice Chris Low.

Inside view of a lion head being restored by master artist Corey Chan (Photo: Russell Rodríguez)

Inside view of a lion head being restored by master artist Corey Chan and his 2011 apprentice Chris Low.

Master artist Corey Chan, his 2011 apprentice Chris Low, and their colleagues Steve and Yogi (Photo: Russell Rodríguez)

From left, master artist Corey Chan, his 2011 apprentice Chris Low, and their colleagues Steve and Yogi.