Working together with young artists, the Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines has opened up new opportunities by utilizing Aboriginal motifs for its souvenir products.
The latest motif featuring the Atayal “Siliq bird” was created by Yang Ya-ju (楊雅茹), a student at Taipei’s Shilin High School of Commerce. Her design is featured on the museum’s porcelain plates.
When the museum sent a finished plate to her home, Yang said: “I was startled. Then I thought it was very cool and quite beautiful.”
Siliq is the Atayal name for the Formosan White-eyed Nun Babbler. Found in mountain forests, it is a species of thrush, also known as the Grey-cheeked Fulvetta in some countries.
The Atayal believe it is a symbol of good fortune, and use its calls and singing to determine good or bad omens. For example, the Siliq is used to decide if it is suitable to go hunting in the mountains.
Yang searched the Internet to find out about Atayal myths and stories about the Siliq, then spent two months on the design process.
She used images of the bird’s shadow to form flower petals, the stem of the flower was used to represent the magic wand used by Aboriginal shamans and the leaves were adorned with traditional Atayal designs. Yang said the image of blossoming flowers symbolizes Aboriginal cultural revitalization and passing on of knowledge to the younger generation.
Since 2006, the museum has held a bi-annual competition for Aboriginal student poster designs. Last year’s competition attracted more than 1,600 entries from 69 colleges and universities, mostly by students majoring in commercial art and design.
In 2007, the museum for the first time used work by the three top design winners for motifs on a series of postcards.
Lin said that over the past five years, 30,000 copies of the postcard set have been sold at the museum and other outlets, such as Eslite bookstores, the Hotel Royal Taipei, the Lin Family Mansion and Garden, the Pier-2 Art Center in Greater Kaohsiung and the National Dr Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.
Lin Wei-cheng (林威城), a section chief at the museum, said not all the winning designs are suitable for conversion from 2D images into 3D products. He said Yang’s design only garnered an “honorable mention” in last year’s competition, but companies recognized its potential commercial value. As a result, the museum went to pottery and porcelain makers in Yingge District (鶯歌), New Taipei City (新北市)to produce the plates.
All steps in the porcelain-making process were completed by hand — from sketching patterns, flower design imprinting, glazing, firing, applying color pigments, to the blue hue and gold gilt trim decorations, Lin said.
Due to problems during the kiln-firing process, up to 30 percent of fired products are rejected. He said that the best they could do was 200 products per day, or a total of 3,000.
The museum has used students’ designs on mugs, ceramic trays, bookmarks, decal stickers and other products. Lin said the products have proved to be popular with visitors from Japan, the US and European countries.
“For students, when their designs become commercial successes, it looks good on their resume when applying for jobs or further studies,” Lin said.
Tseng Yi-ya (曾宜雅), a student at the Kun Shan University of Technology’s department of visual communication design, won the top prize in last year’s Aboriginal poster competition. Her “Pride” poster combined the traditional pattern design of Thao Aborigines with the face of a mythical white deer.
She sought to convey the Thao myth of a white deer leading hunters through rapids and fast-flowing rivers to a place with abundant fish. Tseng’s design was featured on the cover of the booklet detailing last year’s winning entries.
The museum has a collection of more than 2,200 Aboriginal artifacts and other items and receives about 30,000 visitors each year. According to museum officials, most foreign visitors come from Germany, France and Japan.