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China Exclusive: Putin portrait's fame excites makers


10:12, March 30, 2013

NANJING, March 29 (Xinhua) -- When Bu Yuan heard Russian President Vladamir Putin had marveled at a portrait made by his team, the embroidery artist said he felt a kind of excitement that could not be described.

Bu's team are artists specializing in "shenxiu," a top-notch school of traditional Chinese embroidery. Shenxiu artists are known for using silk threads to stitch portraits that are remarkably true to life.

Putin last week received a stitched portrait as a "state gift" from China, according to him.P "I phoned the Ministry of Foreign Affairs numerous times to ask about Putin's reaction. Later I was told that Putin was very pleased," said Bu, head of an art gallery dedicated to Shen Shou, a famed embroidery artist who created shenxiu about a century ago.

In December, the foreigmn ministry contacted Bu and invited him to make a gift for Putin and have it finished within three months.

"It was a huge challenge," said Bu, who lives in Nantong city, east China's Jiangsu Province. A portrait of this kind normally takes more than a year.

Right after receiving the minstry's call, Bu went to the four best embroidery artists he knows. The artists decided that each person should focus on one part of the portrait. They would take turns embroidering their respective parts so the stitching would never stop.

"None of us took a rest, even during the Chinese New Year holiday," Bu said.

Li Jinyun has been stitching embroidery for 42 years. But when it came to the portrait of Putin, she had to frequently consult her teammates. "It took dozesn of colors just to embroider the eyes," Li said.

The work, 60 cm in length and 50 cm in width, was finally finished on March 14, 91 days after the artists started. But Bu did not yet feel relieved. He decided to personally hand the portrait over to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"I took a train and stayed awake all night, holding the portrait against my chest," Bu said.

Prior to the portrait of Putin, Bu's team had made two other portraits as state gifts, including a "family photo" of U.S. President Barack Obama and a portrait of the Belgian king and queen.

Official website of Bu's art gallery,, carries a photo of President Obama who received the gift in Beijing during his China visit in November 2009.

Bu said the average price for a single shenxiu embroidery has risen to around 100,000 yuan (16,000 U.S. dollars).

Although the craft is well-known and lucrative, Bu said he does not have enough staff to keep up with demand.

"Many are coming to me for works. But I have nothing to sell. Our team is very understaffed right now," Bu said.

Since shenxiu artists stitch lifelike portraits, they must be masters of both embroidery and painting. The creation of each shenxiu work tests the artists' perseverance and attention to detail.

Most of the craft's skilled artists are in their 60s, but they may find no disciples to pass their craft on to, said Lou Jiajun, an embroidery researcher in Nantong, where shenxiu was born.

"Few young people are willing to devote themselves to traditional craftsmanship," Lou said.

In 2008, shenxiu was included in a national-level intangible cultural heritage list.

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