It all started last week when I figured out that I am hoping to have at least three new projects (two minicomics and a sketchbook collection) featuring dragons on my table at SPX next month. It was a short step to remembering that 2012 is a dragon year according to the Chinese calendar, and then to remembering my Chinese rope dragon. (At least I thought he was Chinese.)
I’d bought this dragon, which was a little more than a foot long and knotted out of cheap plastic lanyard twine and wire in shades of yellow and orange, in Chicago’s Chinatown when I was in college, and he had been a decoration in various dorm rooms and apartments before settling in my current studio in 1990. He disappeared about four years ago under mysterious circumstances and has not been seen since. (I would post a picture of him here, but it doesn’t look like I ever took one.) I can only hope that, like my husband’s pocket screwdriver, recently recovered after being lost for many years, my original rope dragon will eventually reappear.
But the fact remained that a rope dragon would look very good on my table at SPX this year, and I no longer had one. No problem, I thought, there is the internet now, and all kinds of cheap but cheerful souvenir-shop-type items are freely available at low cost. And that’s true– I could have bought dozens of waving cats or big paper fans with things painted on them or dragon shaped incense burners in less than an hour, but the real knotted rope dragons, which I remember being very common in the 70s and 8os, were very hard to find or very far away.
It turns out that rope dragons are not Chinese at all. Or rather they are sculptures of Chinese dragons (as opposed to the Western kind) which are made in Thailand. The world source of all rope dragons is Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, and if you are willing to order them from there you can get as many as you want, in every size from miniatures of about six inches to meter long beauties that cost more than a hundred bucks, in every material from genuine undyed hemp rope to the plastic twine I fondly remember from my original dragon. The field is wide open; you can even have your dragons dyed to order in custom colors. The trouble only comes when you start counting out the lead times on shipping. I’ve been very spoiled by the internet: I want a new rope dragon now, not in six to eight weeks!
Luckily Zyger Imports in Los Angeles was able to come to my rescue, with several dragons in stock that looked very handsome on their website. They even had very striking red glass eyes. I couldn’t decide which size would work best on my table without seeing them, and the prices were modest, so I ordered one of each size. I think they look even better in person. Here’s the large Thai rope dragon in purple and green:
The big one is a little more than 18 inches long, while the small one is about a foot in length. I think the big guy is more dramatic and photogenic, but the small one has lots of personality. I have no idea which one you will see at SPX. The little black one is certainly coming, and I may bring them both if I have room to pack them.
Neither of these dragons, nifty though they are, can replace my old friend, but I have hopes that they will all live in harmony if he ever returns.
(all images ©2012 Pam Bliss)
read the rest of the rope dragon story here!