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Artisan captures opera masks in a most eggs-quisite fashion
2015-08-18
By Lu Feiran

Fei Yongquan, 77, adores Peking Opera and has developed a very distinctive way of expressing that lifelong fascination. He paints the opera’s distinctive facial masks on eggshells.

“Of everything about Peking Opera, the facial mask paintings fascinated me most,” said Fei. “I loved to study how the different colors and shapes expressed the different personalities of characters.”

He has created more than 200 facial mask paintings in the last decade and now teaches a class on eggshell painting in his local community. His craftsmanship was honored at the World Expo Shanghai 2010.

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Prior to retirement, Fei taught mechanics at a vocation school in Minhang. It all seems a far cry from his artistic endeavors.

Fei said he always loved to sing Peking Opera and once joined a club for amateur singers. However, his native Zhejiang Province accent didn’t quite capture the tones of lyrics written for the pure Beijing dialect.

“It was weird, and not in a good way, to sing Peking Opera with a Zhejiang accent,” said Fei. “So I needed to find some other way to pursue my interest.”

He turned to the traditional face masks of the opera genre, beginning self-study with the help of a book entitled “The Art of Peking Opera Facial Mask Painting.” First, he needed to find a medium to work in. He tried several before finally settling on eggshells.

“The shape of an eggshell is very similar to the human face,” said Fei. “I found eggshells perfect for mask art.”

One by one, eggshells have become the classic characters of Peking Opera: Bao Zheng, a detective with a black face; Guan Yu, a general with a red face; and Dou Erdun, a swordsman with a blue face.

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The works are displayed in a glass cabinet in his living room. Each piece is tagged with the name and story of the character.

Fei admitted that painting on eggshells isn’t as easy as he originally thought. It took him years to master the technique.

He starts by puncturing an egg with a small hole on the top and a somewhat larger one on the bottom. Then he blows out the yolk and white from one end. The natural surface of the shells is too rough to hold paint, so he first polishes them with fine sand paper. Eggshells, of course, are fragile and sometimes break during the process.

Fei then draws a draft of a facial mask with pencil on the shell. He used to then paint them with watercolor pens, but found the color faded too quickly.

“My daughter-in-law bought me acrylic paint, and it worked perfectly,” said Fei. “The faces are glossy and never fade.”

The offshoot of his artistic hobby is a steady fare for the family dinner table: scrambled eggs, steamed eggs, fried rice with eggs and egg drop soup.

“I’m grateful that my family supported me and didn’t complain,” he said. “I’m sorry that they have had to put up with eating so many eggs.”

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His work has attracted attention. Fei gives free lectures in a local community school every week, teaching people how to paint eggshells.

His works were also displayed on Central China Television during a Peking Opera competition, which attracted media attention from all over the country.

During the World Expo Shanghai 2010, Fei was invited to demonstrate his techniques in the China Pavilion.

“At that time, I drew Haibao, the mascot of the event, and a lot of older people came up and told me they wanted to learn this art form,” he said.

Fei has declined to sell his eggshell masks to inquiring buyers, but he does give away some of the creations to friends as gifts.

“My hope is that more people will become interested in painting Peking Opera face masks,” he said. “It’s an excellent way to continue this traditional culture.” 




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