Saturday, March 26, 2011

Update: St. Louis Block: New "Dragon Gate" and "Memory Wall"

Through continuing consultation with the descendants of Helena's historic Chinese community, I have re-designed portions of the mural, including the new "Dragon Gate" and the "Memory Wall" on the first arch.

A new Dragon Gate image for the entry of the St. Louis Block mural. [Note, Oct. 11, 2011: The building is not the Boston Block, which is south one building, but the St. Louis Block, named for the St. Louis Hotel which was connected at the rear of the building when it was first built.] Rather than the blue Ming Dynasty plate with dragon and phoenix first proposed, I re-designed this entry arch/wall after consultation with members of Helena's Chinese community descendants. See the older design with blue plate and other elements here(the Dorothy wall is to be moved, the Feng Shui wall replaced, and a new Memory Wall instead, as described below). I am moving the Dorothy wall from its location in the first design (click the link above), from right behind this entry wall, back one archway to where the "feng shui" wall was originally, facing the stairs at the rear. This is more appropriate since the Chinese elements will be kept together conceptually and visually this way and the real Dorothy's Rooms entrance was facing the rear of the building anyways.


Below is the new Dragon Gate, as proposed [The final dragon as painted, looks a bit different, in order to avoid the discontinuity in the wall above], followed by source material excerpts on the Chinese Dragon with its symbolism and traditions.

In Chinese art, dragons are typically portrayed as long, scaled, serpentine creatures with four legs. In yin and yang terminology, a dragon is yang and complements a yin fenghuang "Chinese phoenix".

In contrast to European dragons, which are considered evil, Chinese dragons traditionally symbolize potent and auspicious powers, particularly control over water, rainfall, hurricane, and floods. The dragon is also a symbol of power, strength, and good luck.

...The 5-clawed dragon was assigned to represent the Emperor while the 4-clawed and 3-clawed dragons were assigned to the commoners.

...The Han Dynasty scholar Wang Fu recorded Chinese myths that long dragons had nine anatomical resemblances.

The people paint the dragon's shape with a horse's head and a snake's tail. Further, there are expressions as 'three joints' and 'nine resemblances' (of the dragon), to wit: from head to shoulder, from shoulder to breast, from breast to tail. These are the joints; as to the nine resemblances, they are the following: his horns resemble those of a stag, his head that of a camel, his eyes those of a demon, his neck that of a snake, his belly that of a clam (shen, 蜃), his scales those of a carp, his claws those of an eagle, his soles those of a tiger, his ears those of a cow. Upon his head he has a thing like a broad eminence (a big lump), called [chimu] (尺木). If a dragon has no [chimu], he cannot ascend to the sky.

Further sources give variant lists of the nine animal resemblances. Sinologist Henri Doré lists these characteristics of an authentic dragon: "The horns of a deer. The head of a camel. A demon's eyes. The neck of a snake. A tortoise's viscera. A hawk's claws. The palms of a tiger. A cow's ears. And it hears through its horns, its ears being deprived of all power of hearing." He notes that, "Others state it has a rabbit's eyes, a frog's belly, a carp's scales." The anatomy of other legendary creatures, including the chimera and manticore, is similarly amalgamated from fierce animals.

...Many pictures of oriental dragons show a flaming pearl under their chin. The pearl is associated with wealth, good luck, and prosperity.

...and further...

Some individuals suffer from the misconception that the Chinese Dragon is a symbol of evil. This erroneous belief stems from the mythology of the western world where the dragon was thought to abduct maidens, wreak havoc on the populace, steal gold and destroy villages. In the mediaeval context the Western dragon was often the symbol of Satan incarnate. This is not so in the dragons of the orient. In fact it is just the opposite. The dragons of China and Japan are almost exclusively benevolent mythological creatures. In fact they are so different in nature from Western Dragons that it may be more reasonable to consider them as dissimilar creatures, rather than as the same creature interpreted differently.

The Chinese call the dragon 'lung' (long) because it is deaf. It is the largest of scaly animals, and it has the following nine characteristics. Its head is like a camels, its horns like a deer's, its eyes like a hare's, its ears like a bull's, its neck like an iguana's, its belly like a frog's, its scales like those of a carp, its paws like a tiger's, and its claws like an eagle's. It has nine times nine scales, it being the extreme of a lucky number.

On each side of the dragons mouth are whiskers, under its chin or floating just out of reach is a bright pearl, on the top of its head the 'poh shan' or foot rule, without which it cannot ascend to heaven.

...The Dragon Pearl
The luminous ball or pearl often depicted under the dragon's chin or seen to be spinning in the air, pursued by one or two dragons is thought to be a symbolic representation of the 'sacred pearl' of wisdom or yang energy. Pearl symbolism, like lunar symbolism arises from Daoist roots and the connections, are extremely complex. This pearl can be said to stand most often for 'truth' and 'life' - perhaps even everlasting life which is made available to those who perceive the truth and attain enlightenment.

The dragon's pearl can also be thought of as a symbol for universal Qi the progenitor of all energy and creation. The dragons seem to be depicted in attitudes of pursuit. He is seen to be reaching out eagerly to clutch at the elusive object, mouth open in anticipation and eyes bulging with anticipation of achieving the prize afforded by clutching the pearl.

In connection with the dragon the pearl has been called the image of thunder, of the moon, of the sun, of the egg emblem of the dual influences of nature, and the 'pearl of potentiality'. The pearl is most often depicted as a spiral or a globe. In some paintings it is sometimes red, sometimes gold, sometimes the bluish white of a true pearl. The pearl is often accompanied by little jagged flashes that seem to spark out from it, like flames; and it almost always has an appendage in the form of a small undulating sprout, not unlike the first young shoot from a bean.

In Daoist concepts the moon, pearls, dragons and serpents are inextricably linked. Like the snake that is reborn when it sheds its skin, the moon is reborn each month, and both are symbols of immortality.


The originally proposed feng shui wall is removed. Instead, a "Memory Wall" with photos and names from Helena's Chinese community, Chinese-owned businesses and sites, and one of its first Chinese citizens, Wong See Q. The new Memory Wall will be located on the entry arch right behind this new Dragon Gate. The new Memory Wall (working draft, with additional sites/businesses to be added) and the facing arch with "Chinese Takeout" is below.