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Asian accents

Chinese culture flourishes in Beaverton
by: Gail Park, Xirong Wu shows a red vase from her collection of porcelain vases. It sits on the headboard in her guest room.

The basic exterior of Jian Mei and Xirong Wu's Beaverton house sharply contrasts with its interior. Inside the two-story, large, colorful pieces of Chinese artwork turn the home into a cultural haven as dramatic as the history of China.

The husband, wife and their daughter, Xiaoxi Mei, bring their rich Chinese heritage to the orderly home located near Westview High School, where Xiaoxi graduated. Porcelain artwork, Chinese murals and Asian paintings decorate this cozy home.

Porcelain ceramics, handcrafted by skillful craftsmen in Jingdezhen, China, grace every room. Starting in the covered entryway, a 2-foot-tall pedestal planter suggests the Chinese world within.

Once inside, three large blue and white vessels accent the entrance. After shoes are removed, guests can walk through a hallway leading to the kitchen and living room.

The visitors are not always family or friends of Jian, Xiaoxi or Xirong. Serious shoppers of porcelain ceramics enter the business conducted from there. By appointment, collectors and the curious alike can marvel at the porcelain treasures that pay homage to Chinese history. Customers have learned about the wares from the couple who participate in local garden shows, trade events and Asian festivals. Some may have heard about the intricately handcrafted pieces from co-workers who work alongside Jian at Intel. A Web site may lead others to their door.

But, first and foremost, the porcelain showcase is a home - a home with ever-changing décor.

'We display art we like,' says Jian of the artwork thoughtfully positioned on mantels, headboards, floors and shelving. 'The people are buying our vases, so our rooms are constantly changing. We are always on 'Plan B' - or 'Plan D.' The displays show our product variety, but not really. We put out what looks good for us.'

Xirong is passionate about her heritage. She grew up less than 200 miles from Jingdezhen, where the production of fine porcelain artwork is legendary. Today, her older brother, Dejian Wu, is the owner of a china production workshop and is a sales manager for another porcelain company. The delicate pieces that arrive in Beaverton are shipped in crates directly from the production locations situated throughout China's 'Porcelain Capital.'

'I am honored to share the treasures,' says Xirong who proudly showcases dozens of vessels anywhere from 10 inches to 6 feet tall.

In contrast to the living room's mustard-colored leather couches and sunny-yellow geometric artwork, three large, deep blue vases are nestled together on the fireplace hearth. The elegant pieces make a bold statement in the otherwise simple, clutter-free room. The collection appears to be of European influence, however, each one contains characters that express happiness and good fortune. Two of them are 3 feet tall.

According to Xirong, the national flower of China is handpainted on the vases. Gold-glazed handles glisten in the light.

On a coffee table, a brilliant hand-etched butter-gold and turquoise vessel draws the room's colors together. The ornate carving defines the room: traditional Chinese.

By a window, a large planter embellished with a Chinese landscape comforts a healthy ficus tree with broad branches, lots of leaves and new growth. The planter may only be temporary.

When customers buy Jian and Xirong's décor, the importers can quickly fill the empty spaces with new treasures that are in storage. The home's Chinese culture continues to blossom.

Before Jian and Xirong began their in-home business, they operated out of downtown Portland. Their store on Southwest Alder, called Oriental Art - Chinese Porcelain Art Mart, lasted for one year. High overhead devoured their revenue. Jian, who works full time at Intel, invested long hours to make ends meet. Xirong spent many quiet hours at the store.

'The home business is relaxed,' Jian interprets for Xirong. 'Working out of the home is convenient,' he says, adding that, if he's needed, 'I'm just a few minutes away.'

Chinese porcelain ware has a 1,700-year history in China. According to Jian, the Jingdezhen china is particularly high-quality.

'The porcelain clay, called kaolin, is most famous because of its white color and durability,' he says. 'The handthrown pieces are very thin. The small ones are like an eggshell.'

Four varieties of Chinese porcelain artwork are crafted in Jingdezhen, the different characteristics being: (1) traditional blue and white, (2) extremely vibrant color, (3) carved or etched and (4) artwork that imitates works that are a part of Chinese heritage and history.

The art is elaborate and masterfully recreated, without modern technology, to duplicate the carvings and paintings of China's most cherished artwork. Long hours go into each piece that matches the color, weight and intricate carvings of the original art forms.

'The masterpieces are very difficult to ship,' says Jian, who is unable to receive some large or extremely fragile pieces. 'Some of the pieces are gigantic - 7 feet in diameter. They end up filled with gardens in very high-end restaurants.'

According to Jian, many of the pieces depict China's beauty and history, such as the capital city's festival some 500 years ago. Happy Chinese children, birds and landscapes are handpainted on many vessels. Some are simply bold with color. The artwork usually has Chinese words on it 'to wish you happiness and good fortune,' he says.

According to Jian, 'We only focus on the china from the city of Jingdezhen because of the long history of very good porcelain. We are happy we build the bridge between Chinese porcelain artworks and the people who love them here in Oregon and the United States.'

On May 10 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. the family will bring some of their china to the AsiaFest Show at the Oregon Convention Center.

For more information or to contact Jian or Xirong, go to www.jrtradingllc.com or call 503-504-4897.