Stitching together a family legacy

An embroidery work depicting the collision of gold nuclei is a big draw for visitors at the Suzhou Art Museum. [Photo by Gao Erqiang/China Daily]

Walking into the Suzhou Art Museum in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, the eyes of visitors are immediately drawn to an artwork hanging high on the wall that depicts the collision of gold nuclei, giving the surface impression of a contemporary art piece.

However, upon closer examination, viewers will see that the luster of its shimmering lines belies the ancient craft of Su embroidery, which originated in the city more than 2,000 years ago.

“Viewers mistake it for an oil painting at first sight. We hope to imbue the traditional craft with contemporary expressions,” says Zhang Fan, 48, one of the creators of the piece.

Next to the artwork are two Su embroidery works replicating abstract photos taken by US photographer Michael Yamashita. All of these works are produced by Zhang and his mother, Zhang Meifang, 78, a master embroiderer who created the collision piece in collaboration with established physicist Tsung-dao Lee.

In 2005, the Zhangs established an embroidery innovative center, applying the ancient stitching techniques of silk thread to modern art forms, including oil paintings, murals, sculpted reliefs and photos.

Known for its intricate techniques, elegant style and vibrant colors, Su embroidery usually focuses on birds and flowers, cats, landscapes and figures. Most embroiderers in the area have concentrated on these subjects for centuries, making it popular among both the nobility and the general populace for its exquisite needlework.