Featuring over 250 intricate works of silver, Miao: Masters of Silver features jewelry and textiles primarily made in China’s Guizhou Province, where the largest population of Miao people reside. Male silversmiths create a variety of ornaments through casting, smelting, repoussé (a reverse hammering technique), forging, engraving, knitting, coiling, cutting, and other methods. Concepts such as beauty, unity, fortune, and pride are expressed as visual abstractions and geometric motifs.
Silver itself is symbolic of light, the moon, fertility, and protection against evil, but it also represents a woman’s wealth and plays a role in courtship. Families spare no expense in adorning their daughters, purchasing additional pieces as they are able. Worn mostly in large festivals, the headdresses, combs, earrings, necklaces, breastplates, bracelets, rings, ornaments, and the counterweights on display here can weigh up to twenty pounds. The fine work aims to attract suitors who look at each garment as measures of the wearer’s qualities. In marriage, silver acts a woman’s dowry and is eventually passed down from mother to daughter.