China: The Art of Carved Calligraphy
inscribed plaques or signboards are a rarity today as businesses modernize and machine made plastic signs are preferred over its skill and labor intensive predecessor. the dying art and trade of carved calligraphy are compounded by the fact that the young generation has no interest in taking over or apprenticing with traditional signboard makers to continue the craft. the history of the carved signboards dates back more than 2,000 years ago and is inextricably tied with chinese calligraphy, culture and craft. the migrant chinese worker who left his or her motherland to set up business in other countries would have the district of origin, dialect or surname inscribed in order to preserve their tradition and identity.
besides its practical use, the inscribed plaque is also an auspicious emblem believed by the chinese to bring good luck to a business or a home. the extensive collection of chinese signboards gathered over the years is perhaps the only one of its kind in Singapore. what is unique about the collection is that most of the signboards were not meant for a place of business but rather as a symbolic reminder, a favorite piece of poetry or a proverb. often occupying a place of prominence mounted at the entrance of a house usually of a wealthy household. despite its dying craft, traditional carved signboards remain an important part of chinese culture, usually presented with congratulatory blessings as a gift to a newly opened business.
it’s modest aesthetic often conceal its exceptional artistic merit, from the vigor of the chinese calligraphy to the deft woodcarving skill. the traditional signboards to us are a work of art in themselves, rich in history and tradition. the collection is a source for interesting thought when one contemplates what the previous owners had intended to express or represent. the events and daily life that it bore witness to as life streamed in and out from the entrance it once perched on.
* Translations provided are general and to the best of our knowledge. As lack of information on the original context of the signboard and nature of the language present challenges in fully conveying the essence of the calligraphy.