Yu Yuan, Audio Tour Track #3008
Yu Yuan, ca. early 1980s, Madelyn Cook, 1:12 scale
Yu Yuan, located in our museum's Exploring the World Gallery.
Created by Madelyn Cook in the 1980s. This piece was created in 1:12 scale, where one inch in miniature is equivalent to 12 inches in the full scale.
Yu Yuan is one of several acquisitions our museum has received from renowned miniature artisan, Madelyn Cook. Yu Yuan, which translates to “Garden of Ease,” is a stunning replica of the classical Dragon Pavilion found in the Yuyuan Garden, located in Shanghai, which was created over 400 years ago by a Ming Dynasty officer named Pan Yunduan. The entire garden is a popular tourist attraction measuring over 5 acres in size, but Madelyn Cook chose to recreate only the small building of the Dragon Pavilion, along with its surrounding water and rock garden. The entire scene measures 50 inches wide by 22 inches deep.
The Dragon Pavillion is a bright red building with open, wooden walls constructed of intricately patterned Chinese latticework. There is a feeling of tranquility created from this open design, as breezes could easily flow through the three rooms of the Pavilion. The Chinese favor rocks and water in their gardens, rather than flowers, and the Pavilion sits on stilts above a pond flanked on all sides by outcroppings of small rock gardens. The entire enclosure is surrounded by a Dragon Wall, which protects the Pavilion from view. Dragon walls are an element of classical Chinese architecture, comprised of undulating stone ridges that imitate the curves of a dragon's back, rather than the straight and flat walls we are more familiar with in the West. Madelyn Cook has left a large central portion of her Dragon Wall unfinished, to allow visitors to better view the Pavillion which lays behind the wall. The wall also features two dragon heads which meet above a large, red circular doorway called a Moon Gate, which is a Chinese symbol of both heaven and perfection. After entering through the Moon Gate, walking a few steps to the right places you directly in front of the Pavilion steps; to the left, a small wooden bridge grants you passage across the pond to a nearby rock garden on the left side of the enclosure, where a weeping willow tree hangs its branches into the water's edge. Two simple wooden stools are placed beneath this willow, inviting peaceful reflection. Just beneath the water's surface, which is made of hard, clear aquamarine resin, visitors can see golden carp. Carp are symbolic in Chinese culture, representing abundance and good fortune, and playing a role in many ancient stories and customs.
Your gaze carries you up the smooth, flat stone steps into the Pavilion. There is no door to this building, the entire front wall is open to welcome garden visitors. Once inside the Pavilion, there are three rooms, each showcasing accessories and furniture which were hand-crafted by Madelyn Cook as copies from the Ming Dynasty period. The largest central room is the main entry room, with two smaller rooms, one on either side, to the right and to the left. The walls of the main room are lined with golden silk brocade featuring Chinese symbols and motifs in metallic thread. This large entry room would be for meditation. A waist-high rectangular table is in the center of the room, laden with a golden statue of Buddha flanked by candles. A decorative sword has also been placed on this alter, a gift to the other statues in this room: two grimacing Chinese lions and a wooden statue of Guan Yu, a god of war, protection, and loyalty. These statues can be found against the back wall of the room, standing upright on a decorative wooden chest made of Carpathian elm with two side-by-side top drawers and two cupboards beneath. There are two unusual chairs on either side of this wooden chest, each with hand-stitched petit-point cushions and separate wooden footrests. Matching Ming vases stand on high wooden tables at either side of this main room, one beside each chair, next to the entryways into the two adjoining rooms.
These other two rooms are outcroppings of the main room, and neither has solid walls nor doors. Instead, they are constructed of intricate wooden lattice work, painted red, with large vacant rectangular areas for windows, without glass. The room on the right is a small dressing room, complete with a wash stand and towel. On display is a red silk formal robe with golden brocade - this robe would have been worn by a court official for a ceremonial occasion, unsuitable for everyday wear. There is also a Kang table, an ancient and traditional piece of wooden furniture with a dual purpose: it is a low platform with a center desk which can be accessed by a person seated cross-legged on cushions on either side; when the user become tired, the table portion can be removed and the low platform becomes a bed. Madelyn Cook has accessorized this Kang table with a wooden fan, an opium pipe, and a small gong. Another accessory of interest is the carved wooden headrest, designed to support the neck without disturbing one’s often elaborately styled hair.
The room to the left of main space was created for study and quiet reflection. On a desk which overlooks the rock garden and willow tree lies a bundle of neatly wrapped scrolls, tied with string. Another scroll lies open on the desk, in progress. This room has a minimal and understated elegance: a white paper lantern on a wooden stand is ready to be lit when the sun falls, and a wooden statue of Confucius looks down upon the desk from his perch on a wooden stand, behind the desk to the right. The rear lattice wall has a hanging decorative scroll of a mountain scape with a great divide. An elegant rug embroidered with the image of dragon in flight fills the floor space- the design is a copy from an ancient pattern which Madelyn Cook recreated.
Madelyn Cook laboriously drew all of the architectural elements of the Pavilion to scale by hand using her personal photographs and reference books. One of the few artistic liberties which Cook allowed herself involves the roof, which more closely resembles those found in the Imperial City in Peking, including the imperial yellow color. The Pavilion roof slopes downward, comprised of yellow wooden dowels, side by side, each approximately one centimeter thick. These dowels are held together in sections framed by stone ridges capped with carved, stone dragon heads.
The Pavilion garden is a testament to classical Chinese architecture, fraught with symbolism. It is a place for contemplation, creating harmony with nature.