My Huanghuali Meditation Stool - late 17th / early 18th Century
Chris Cowell 35, Department of Architecture, University of Hong Kong

I saw the stool at my friend Oi Ling's store of Contes d'Orient on Hollywood Road. I've known her now for three years and have built up a trust with her. I have been aware for some time that there are almost no pieces of old (i.e. pre 18th C) Chinese furniture coming out of China and certainly no huanghuali pieces at all. If anything the flow is going back in. Oi Ling had been storing this one in her Guangzhou warehouse for about 9 years. She had in fact forgotten about it and was only when a mainland dealer recently arrived to clear out a lot of her stock did the piece get revealed! It was in a slightly sorry state when I first saw it - but it's power on me was immediate. I can't describe it except I perceived an 'aura'. It seemed to exert a natural authority as if it was almost a 'prototype'. I noted some damage to the legs and side, and water-staining to the frame. After reserving it for about a month (I needed to sleep on the decision) I finally committed. A restorer off Old Bailey Street disassembled it, cleaned and reassembled it giving it a slight waxing to lift the grain and patina. I was nervous about this at first but must say that it now looks much finer. Typical of the Ming craftsman it is held together by ingeniously devised mortise and tenon joints and required no glue upon reassembly. On receiving the piece at my home I placed it by a window leading out onto my little balcony and noticed that the cane mat seating revealed a hidden pattern in it. It was the Ming swastika puzzle pattern sometimes used in Ming bed frame screens and other objects. It seemed to ‘lift’ the piece and give it some softness. It came as a wonderful surprise to me.

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