Shanghai Arts and Crafts Museum: the Little White House of Shanghai

With thick green trees, few people and even fewer vehicles, Fenyang Road is definitely a road most suitable for a walk yet it is not wide. While you are walking through the narrow street, your steps will often slow down as you stop for a peek at the beautiful villas through flower fences by the roadside. Walking to No. 79, you will see Shanghai Arts and Crafts Museum (Shanghai Museum of Arts and Crafts). Once you know its nickname “the Little White House of Shanghai”, you will be sure that you have arrived at a place with many historical stories.

Shanghai Arts and Crafts Museum (Shanghai Museum of Arts and Crafts)

The magnificent and elegant garden villa with 18 century European castle style was built in 1905. Because of its white façade, it was called “Shanghai White House”. The building used to be the seat of highest governing organization of French Concession – the Municipal French Council. Later the UN World Health Organization was once stationed here, and it was the first office site of this organization in Asia Pacific area. In 1963, Arts & Crafts Research Institute was stationed in it with groups of Shanghai’s best craftsmen and painters gathering here, working and teaching. In the meanwhile, a showroom of arts and crafts was set up on the second floor. In 2002, Shanghai Arts and Crafts Museum was officially founded, with over 300 pieces works exhibited. The excellent techniques and rich works have attracted a great number of visitors, including the late US President Reagan and the late British Prime Minister Heath, wife of the former Egyptian President and wife of the former French President, etc.

Shanghai Arts and Crafts Museum

Entering the gate and turning right, you will see a vast lawn which is neatly and elegant mowed. An S-shaped creek babbles on across the lawn, tapering to the end. Branches of camphor trees on both sides hang down into the center of the creek. It is said that there used to be a sculpture of Venus in the water, the whereabouts of which is unknown today.

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Turning around, you will catch sight of a white villa inside a vast green, like that on a postcard. As the official residence of the Municipal French Council, this building is of obvious French Renaissance characteristics. It emphasizes horizontal lines spreading symmetrically. Two stories above the ground and a basement half above the ground together form a steady three-horizontal-part and three-vertical-part pattern. There is an apparent thick waistline on the façade between the first and the second storey. A semicircular terrace lies on the middle of the second floor and open staircases on each side spiral down from here, like waterfalls slowly pouring down, both classic and rich in streamlined aesthetics. A fountain is located at the convergence of the two staircases, with a brass lion-head spout. Although no spring is sent up, the spout is quite exquisite in itself. There is a marigold vase sculpture carved on each column head of the staircase. The vase shapes on the handrails of the staircases add to a tender beauty of curves.

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Climbing up along the stairs, you will find semicircular arcs on top of the French windows, with shallow reliefs carved on the window frames. The two sides of the main gate are both decorated with lonic twin columns, the capitals of which are small and delicate. Going upward, you are before the square French windows of the second floor. On the window frames are also enchased decorations. Small balconies with black enchased rails project from the French windows, adding a sense of romance, which, might be an ideal stage for Romeo and Juliet.

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Everything inside the hall is made of marble with exquisite and complex enchasing. The floor inside the rooms is covered with fine-grained dark brown teakwood parquet. The walls of the left small hall are painted white, while wall decorations of the plaster floral patterns are painted pink. The two colors echo each other in great harmony. Under the large golden mirror is a fireplce of standard European palace style.

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There are a vast number of exhibits in Shanghai Arts and Crafts Museum. Many of the folk arts and crafts in Shanghai are on the edge of extinction and in urgent need of rescue. For example, the unique skill Gu’s Embroidery of Luxiang Garden has less than 10 practitioners, who are all senior people and have few successors. And the Jiading Bamboo Carving whose fame spread far both at home and abroad as early as in Ming and Qing dynasties could possibly become a past memory if there are no successors within a few years. Therefore, endeavoring to save those skills from extinction is the mission of the masters of arts and crafts working in this building. The masters each own a studio, where you can have a close observation. Parts of their works are for sale and you can buy the ones you like.

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Travel Tips:

After the “Arts and Crafts” tour, you can experience the “music road” for Shanghai Conservatory of Music which is also on Fenyang Road. There are a good many musical instrument stores, providing all kinds of instruments from Chinese to Western, from classic to modern.

Three well-known old western style house restaurants, such as Paulaner, Ambrosia and Peace Mansion are also found along the Fenyang Road.

In the community garden at the converging point of Fenyang Road, Yueyang Road and Taojiang Road, stands a bronze statue of Pushkin, quite rare in Shanghai due to the small number of statues of famous foreign figures.

Fenyang Road cuts across Taiyuan Road, where many old note-worthy buildings such as Taiyuan villa and the Marshall Residence are situated.

Taojiang Road nearby is also quite interesting. The “cobblestone road” that used to be common in Shanghai has been restored on part of it. When coming to the end of Taojiang Road, you can go further to Dongping Road next to it. On that road, you will find “Ailu Residence (Love Cottage)” of Soong Meiling and Chiang Kai-shek, and restaurants in old villas such as “Lapis Lazuli’, “Sasha’s”, etc, as well as “Simply Liife” – a fashion home products store.

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