The Little Museum That Could

Along the one mile stretch of main street that anchors the small Northwestern town of Huanxian in Gansu province, you’ll find their cultural center. Painted a light peachy pink, the building stands out amongst the rest of the concrete. At the top floor of this modest building jutted along the west side of their central square is one of the nicest museum collections of shadow puppetry I’ve been able to take my time with.


The three times I visited during my residency in Huanxian, the building was like a ghost town. I had to hunt down the ‘guy with the key’ twice, in order to access the exhibition. I suppose in a town this small, everyone has seen the exhibition already. Once the room was opened, it was just me in those three rooms. I could just sit and stare and take it all in for as long as I darn well pleased.

Sure, the fact that all the pieces are being held up by packaging tape? Absolutely grimace inducing. But, other than that – there are some unforgettably unique designs that are beautifully posed, well lit and exquisite in their artistry.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you may notice that the Gansu shadow puppet style strongly resembles the Shaanxi aesthetic. This is most likely because, back in the day, shadow puppetry made its way Northwest from Shaanxi. Along the way, the singing method and cutting method shifted, but the aesthetic remained largely intact.

I wish I could post all the pictures for you. Or, better yet, teleport you there to witness them first hand. It’s hard to describe just how you feel when standing in front of a master cut piece worn from its life on the screen. How I wish I could have seen them in action.

Thanks for reading & looking ~




IMG_7668Rooftop Terrace Detail


IMG_7693Roof Detail



IMG_7807A Water Monster (Crab) from the White Snake Story 

IMG_7812Another Water Monster  (Turtle) from the White Snake Story



IMG_7858The sun!


5 responses to “The Little Museum That Could

  1. Wow. Those are truly great works of art and of cultural importance. took my breath away….goes to show that a piece doesn’t have to be big to be amazing. Really breathtaking. Is there anybody today that can do that kind of detailed work?

    Date: Thu, 28 Aug 2014 16:17:00 +0000 To:

  2. Wow, these are stunning. Thanks for posting!

  3. Pamela Bridges

    And to think I was teaching in Gansu province in 2010 and no one told me about the shadow puppets! I have Indonesian and Turkish shadow puppets and would love to have some of these.

  4. Luis Pedro Arroyave

    The beauty of the pieces is amazing. The exquisite way they were made is marvelous. I imagine the incredible light and shadow show when light met with them in the box.
    Thank you for sharing.

  5. Pingback: Weekly Puppetry News Round-Up: Labour Day Edition | PuppetVision

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