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Library event looks at Chinese stone paintings

The One-World Library Project at the Lawrence Memorial Library in Bristol. will host a free program, "Created at the Dawn of Time and Coveted by China's Ancient Emperors: China's Extraordinary Natural Stone Paintings" on Thursday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m. Shelburne-based art and antiques collector Doug Schneible will discuss the landscape stone paintings known as Shi-Hua.

According to Schneible, collectors have revered these landscape stone paintings for centuries, particularly since the Ming dynasty when Dali marble became a favored asset. In the west, the French took particular fancy to these beautiful works of art naming them "pierres de reve" or dreamstones. In this program, Schneible will explore the history, geology, creation, spiritual significance and value determination of these natural works of art.

Schneible is the president of Schneible Fine Art, a Shelburne-based gallery that specializes in Asian antiquities and contemporary art.

Schneible has traveled to the Dali Prefecture and the Cangshan Mountains in southwestern China's Yunnan Province to the mines where these special stones are extracted, meeting with craftspeople whose families have worked on this unique art form for generations. After considerable external scrutiny, each selected marble slab that was hand cut from deep mountain cave mines, is carefully cut into thin slabs. Experienced craftspeople, members of China's Bai Minority Group, have been practicing this art for over four generations.

If a cutter is lucky, the slab's inner bounds reveal a palette and pattern of uncompromising natural beauty. Thus, a unique work of art is born. Natural inclusions found suggest heavenly landscapes: misty mountains, lofty peaks and meandering riverbeds. Well observed patterns known in Chinese as "Caihu" (colored flowers), "Yunhui" (grey clouds) and "Baishi" (white jade) describe valued contents.

Today most Dali marble mines have been closed by the government because of environmental and other regulatory issues. Extraction and transportation is arduous and access is extremely limited to a handful of dedicated generations old Bai workers and "donkey" caravans. It may be a matter of a few short years before access to these mines is completely terminated.

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