The shape of this frieze suggests it graced the top of the front of an altar table. It was made by the firm of 三友 “Sam Yau” in Canton.

LOCATION

McCrossin’s Mill Museum, Uralla

Carved scene with three sheep - McCrossin's Mill
Carved scene with three sheep – at McCrossin’s Mill (IMG_6204, 12.4.21)

TRANSCRIPTIONS AND TRANSLATIONS

Manufacturer’s name at top right

省城杉木欄三友造

Made by Sam Yau of the Provincial Capital’s Cham-muk-lan.

Above-door inscription within the scene

太史第

Residence of the Grand Record Keeper.

NOTES

省城 “the Provincial Capital”: The expression 省城 “the Provincial Capital” would refer in this context to the city of Canton (now also known as Guangzhou).

杉木欄 Cham-muk-lan: “Cham-muk-lan” is a historical romanisation of the name of a woodworking and timber-supply quarter of Canton. This quarter’s Chinese name (杉木欄) translates literally as “Fir-wood Market”, fir having been the mainstay of traditional Chinese building and woodwork. Cham-muk-lan was located to the southwest of the city, outside the city walls, along a section of road called, for obvious reasons, 杉木欄街 “Cham-muk-lan Street” (now 杉木欄路“Cham-muk-lan Road”).

三友 “Sam Yau”: The Chinese in North America Research Committee (CINARC) website states that the firm of 三友“Sam Yau”—which it refers to by means of the Mandarin romanisation “San You”—was the most prestigious of a group of three neighbouring Canton wood-carving workshops that were popular amongst the Chinese in North America (see https://www.cinarc.org/Shrines.html). It relates that this workshop later divided into the firms of 許三友 “Hui Sam Yau”, 何三友 “Ho Sam Yau” and 趙三友“Chiu Sam Yau” (these names are romanised on the CINARC website according to their Mandarin pronunciation as “Xu San You”, “He San You” and “Zhao San You” respectively), the first character of each of these firm names reflecting the surname of the proprietor of 三友 “Sam Yau” who had founded it. The same web page contains a list of temple artefacts in North America that were made by these firms; one of these artefacts is given to date from 1906 and to be credited to 三友 “Sam Yau”, which appears contradictory to the statement about the firm having divided into three, given that a number of other artefacts attributed to the later firms are said to date from many years earlier.

The three sheep: While it might be appealing to imagine that the three sheep carved at the right-hand side of this frieze reference the Chinese indentured labourers who worked as shepherds in New England prior to the gold rushes, they are a common traditional Chinese motif, and it seems more likely that they were employed as such, in keeping with the traditional carved scene to their left. This traditional three-sheep motif is an auspicious rebus representing the phrase “三陽開泰” “three heavenly yao open the hexagram t῾ai”, which is commonly used at New Year and employs the parlance of divination found in the ancient Book of Changes, the full import of which would require considerable explanation.

Inscriptions within the scene: The above-throne inscription within the scene appears to have been repainted, in consequence of which its characters are no longer discernible to the naked eye. The other inscription is legible, but the reference is unclear.

This is a continually evolving website, and more information about this object will be published as further research is conducted.