Rhapsody in blue: Kingfisher feather cloisonné in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Ellen Salzman Chase and Blythe McCarthy


Kingfisher feathers have been used to decorate headdresses, hairpins, earrings and other types of personal ornament, as well as larger items such as bed hangings, screens and lanterns. Kingfisher feathers were also used to decorate costumes in Chinese opera. In this paper, the materials and techniques used in the manufacture of kingfisher feather jewelry will be discussed. In particular, approximately thirty-five pieces of jewelry in the Dr. Paul Singer Collection of Chinese Art of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery that are decorated with kingfisher feather or that may have had kingfisher feather previously were studied. Comparable pieces in other collections were also examined. The types of feathers found on the objects, the methods of their preparation, and of their adhesion to the substrate materials will be discussed, as well as the types of substrate materials and associated decorative media. The objects were surveyed for their physical characteristics of substrate type, feather texture, cloisonné form and support structure. More detailed examinations were carried out on the Singer collection objects, including identification of the feathers, identification of metal substrates, the types of adhesives used and general working methods.

2002 | Miami | Volume 9