Ink-stone of Spreading Melon

Beijing Capital Museum has collected a famous ink-stone named the ink-stone of spreading melon. It is carved depending on its original shape. On the top of this ink-stone, there are leaves, stem and flowers of melon. In the front side of the ink-stone, there are two butterflies watching each other. The butterflies' wings are carved as heart of ink-stone. That has quite a special charm.

According to experts, the ink-stone of spreading melon is one of the curious in Duan ink-stone. Duan ink-stone was made in Zhaoqing, Guangdong Province, China, which was called Duanzhou in ancient times. Stones used to make Duan ink-stone were all collected from a stream called Duan Stream. People called stones collected here Duan stones. As different Duan stones have different texture and patterns, craftsmen named them differently, such as Blue and White, Fire Press, Banana Leaf White, Frozen Fish Brain and so on.

On the back of the ink-stone of spreading melon, there carved such a paragraph of inscription written in seal character. According to experts, the man named Li Yunlong who made these inscriptions was not recorded in history. And it has been hard to trace. However, the Lady Official Gu mentioned in the inscriptions, was a famous person in the history of Chinese ink-stone manufacture. She was the famous Gu Erniang, a female master of making ink-stone in China.

Making ink-stone needs to carve on stones. It needs both craft and labor. In the ancient China, such a craft usually was taught to male rather than female. During the early time after Gu Erniang got married, she only did some embroidery. As she was crazy about ink-making, not after long, she began to learn ink-making from her husband. In ink-making, Gu Erniang had a gift. She mastered the key points of it quickly. When she put her heart into studying ink-making, something happened to Gu's family, which changed her life.

Originally, Gu Erniang ought to have lived with her husband. But her husband, Gu Qiming, died in an early age. In history book, there is such record of Gu's family, the ink-making masters, "the son died, and his wife mastered this craft for more than twenty years." That means after her husband's death, Gu Erniang held the career of Gu's family on her own. She not only held business of the family, but also studied family craft of ink-making seriously, and brought it to a great height of development.

Gu Erniang brought forward the idea that when making ink-stones one must hold the same holy sense as casting Xuande incense-burner in Ming Dynasty. Thus, the ink-stones made by her had both special design and traditional charm. Gu Erniang preferred to use stone eyes while making ink-stone, and design according to stone eyes. The ink-stone of spreading melon is an example of that. The butterflies' eyes on it were stone eyes to make this ink-stone more charming.

The biggest feature of Gu Erniang's ink-making was that she was good at making use of stones' original shape. When making a ink-stone, she usually thinking carefully over the stone first to tell its shape and understand its meaning. According to experts, the ink-stone of spreading melon was made in the middle and later period of her life. At that time, she was the master of Gu's family, and was perfect in ink-making. There is such inscription of "it took three months to make it" on this ink-stone. That is to say that Gu Erniang spent three months on conjecturing this stone, and until she understood its texture and patterns very that she started to carve it. Because of her excellent ink-making skill, the then literati considered owning ink-stones made by her as an honor. According to historical records a literati whose last name was Huang was crazy about collecting ink-stones. When he worked in Duanzhou as an official, he gained a very good stone which could be made into ink-stone. In order to find a ink-making master, he kept it for more than ten years. After then, he knew through enquiry that there was an ink-making master called Gu Erniang in Suzhou. He traveled hundreds of miles with his stone to Suzhou. Gu Erniang was moved by his sincere heart and found that it was indeed a good stone. So she made a delicate ink-stone for him. He was very grateful about that. Then, they became very good friends, and she had made many famous ink-stones for him.

As the representative work of Gu Erniang, the ink-stone of spreading melon was collected by later literati carefully all the time. There are four stamps on its back which record its history of heritage.

The inscriptions of four stamps are respectively: "this was once at Li Lyshan's place", "this was once at Fragrant Annexed",  "Beiqian" and "family collection of Meixi".

According to experts the other two stamps: "this was once at Fragrant Annexed" and "Beiqian", can not be traced for its owners. But it is definite that the ink-stone had been collected by refined scholars in the south of China. And it was until the establishment of new China that this ink-stone was collected by Capital Museum.

There is a saying in the Chinese relics and musicology circle: "the jade of Lu Zigang, and the ink-stone of Gu Erniang". That means all works of the two ancient Chinese craft masters are rare treasures. The ink-stone of spreading melon not only makes people comprehend excellent ink-making skill of Gu Erniang, but also feel the marvelous life of this tough-minded woman.