Friday, February 4, 2011

Chinese Wall Gun in Central New York

By: John Hart, Assistant Curator of Collections


As I walked upstairs to the second level of Fenimore Art Museum's storage facility for the very first time, turning the corner the first words out of my mouth were something to the effect of “What the heck is that?” Resting against a shelving unit, reaching nearly 9’ in the air was something I had never once thought would be in the collection of a historical society in the middle of New York State, let alone in Cooperstown. That was the winter of 2006 when I interviewed as a candidate for the Cooperstown Graduate Program; the thing that astonished me: a Taiqiang, or in its anglicized spelling, a jingal, commonly called a Chinese Wall Gun.

Hearsay at the museum led me to believe the gun was probably used to hunt waterfowl from a boat or at least a similar use. For years I never bought that explanation. Sure, something that big could certainly take down geese or ducks or even a small tree for that matter, but so could a shotgun; this thing needed two people to manage it!

I finally decided to do a bit of digging around and turned to my best friend in situations like this: Google. What I learned was actually pretty interesting. These types of weapons are unique to China and were in use around the time of the Opium War (since there were two I’m guessing it’s probably the earlier of them, ca. 1839). They could be used in a variety of different ways, from two people holding it and firing it from the shoulder, to using a stand to stabilize it for one person, and of course, firing from a wall-mounted position. This website shows the first two ways the Taiqiang was used.


Even the history of our object is strange. Brigadier General Morris Foote is listed in the provenance, which is interesting given the other objects I’ve found over the past two years related to the Foote family, but that’s another story. This particular Foote served in the Civil War and later served in Asia, where he no doubt acquired this wall gun and somehow managed to bring it back to the United States with him. It’s certainly a well-traveled object!


Even if the folklore of the wall gun might be a little far-fetched, it has certainly seen its fair share of action, though I wouldn’t have wanted to be on the receiving end of what came out.


All images: Chinese Wall Gun, ca. 1900, Artist Unknown, Metal and Wood, H: 8 ½” x
L: 106" x W: 3. N0296.1963. New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, NY. N0296.1963

2 comments:

temporary walls new york said...

Thanks for this I'm actually looking for blogs/articles on this.

scott davidson said...

I enjoyed looking at the many wall paintings that you have done. Not being very handy with a paintbrush, even though
I know what I like in the way of art, I took the easier option to order this canvas print from the site wahooart.com .

It’s an unusual work called Forest music 1, by Remedios Varo Uranga, a Spanish-Mexican woman artist.

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