Sketching the Silk Road


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    60-Minute Documentary (2006)

    Follow two American painters as they trace an ancient trade route to China’s most famous Buddhist artwork grottoes. Armed with only their sketchbooks and their creativity, they are... Sketching the Silk Road. 

    At the end of their two-week journey, the artists must come up with their own original paintings inspired by the grottoes. How will they capture one of the world’s most remarkable collections of ancient artwork? What will their final paintings look like when they are hanging in a gallery back home?

    About The Silk Road

    Step back in time 1,000 years to the heyday of China’s prosperous Silk Road. The first trade route to bring precious silk to the outside world, it threads its way through vast deserts and over mountains to India, Persia, and Europe. By the same route, treasures from faraway lands make their way into China, like exotic peppers, ivory, perfumes, and the ways of Buddhism.

    About the Caves of One Thousand Buddhas, or Mogao Grottoes

    By the 4th century C.E., Dunhuang, China becomes a major trading post on the Silk Road and a hub of fervent Buddhism. It is here that a monk has a vision of a thousand Buddhas. He voyages to Echoing Sand Mountain and carves a grotto of his vision as an offering to Buddha. For the next thousand years, scores of pilgrims follow the monk’s lead, carving a honeycomb of grottoes and filling them with resplendent murals and sculptures. Their artwork captures Buddhist images and stories of the many ethnic groups, religions, and cultures that thrive along the Silk Road. These are the Caves of a Thousand Buddhas.

    Press Coverage
    "Capturing China on camera...and on canvas," Off Camera, September 2005 (page 8.)
    "Sketching the Silk Road premieres," Off Camera, July 2006 (page 8.)

     "Nor Cal Producer Going National," Off Camera, October 2006 (page 7.)
    "Sketching the Silk Road wins an Emmy award," D3 Press Release, May 2007.

  • See how this journey in all its phases has inspired Rachel Sager and Todd R. Thompson.

    Art Opening & Reception / 
     November 2005

    Rachel and Todd answer questions after 
    the 10-minute sneak-peek video of 
    Sketching the Silk Road

    Nan Hai's gallery is ready for its first visitors 
    to the Sketching the Silk Road Exhibit

    Long-time Inside China and Land of the Dragon fans --Ralph, Carmen and Herman-- enjoy Chinese snacks during the reception

    The crowd gets up-close, as the film crew documents their reactions

    Rachel and Todd share their travel 
    experiences with Shixun Yan and Jubao Pu, 
    of the Chinese Consulate

    Todd meets guests at the art opening

    Rachel describes her on-location 
    paintings to these observers

    Rachel does her last shooting for the final footage of Sketching the Silk Road

    Rachel's sister next to her 31 x 22" oil on canvas, called "Diptych, Cave 011 and Card" (painting one of a two piece set)

    Todd's 36 x 48" oil on canvas, 
    called "Afternoon Stroll"

    Post-China Paintings / 
     August-November 2005

    Todd paints a Chinese landscape against the backdrop of the Malibu, California coastline

    One of Todd's many sketches inspired by
    Dunhuang's Singing Sand Dunes

    Buddhist images like these fill the 
    Mogao Grottoes, as well as the pages of 
    Todd's sketchbook

    Todd's sharp edges and deep shadows capture China's northwestern region

     Rachel plays with Dunhuang-like images 
    on canvas... and on camera

    One month later, Rachel's exploration results 
    in this completed painting

    Rachel's figures incorporate details from the ancient Buddhist artwork in Dunhuang's caves

    Another image that will soon be displayed in our upcoming Sketching the Silk Road art exhibit

    On-the-Road in Dunhuang / 
    July 2005

    On the three hour flight from 
    Beijing to Dunhuang

    Touch down! Rachel and Todd 
    arrive at Dunhuang airport

    Camel riders travel along the dunes

    Rachel gets ready for her first camel trek

    Rachel chooses to go solo on 
    this paragliding adventure

    Todd's view of the oasis is spectacular 
    from up there

    Todd sketches this ancient stockade
    used by soldiers to store supplies

     Look up close and see the straw layers on one 
    of the oldest sections of the Great Wall

    Browsing through this local art supply shop
    is like being in a candy store

    Here is the father of the vineyard owner 
    receiving the gift of a portrait from Rachel

    Rachel and Todd have a go at teaching 
    English in this elementary school

    Rachel and Todd are buried somewhere 
    in this group of eager students

    Todd's first go at Chinese calligraphy

    A calligraphy master presents Rachel and 
    Todd with their names in Chinese

    Everyone gets to enjoy a special banquet in honor of these two artists

    Hanging out of the bus as they return 
    from the famous Buddha grottoes

    Visiting the famous local paper cutting artist, 
    He Ke Feng

    He Ke Feng shares her techniques as she 
    cuts a red flower for window art

    Rachel sketches this well-known
    Dunhuang cave

    Inside Dunhuang's Cave #96, this 116 foot Buddha towers above Rachel and Todd

    A sample of the Dunhuang murals, filmed 
    by a foreign crew for the first time

    A brilliant ceiling in one of the grottoes

    Todd and Rachel take a lesson from these famous Dancing Mural performers

    Todd is ready to join the troupe

    Rachel is happy to see this statue only days after she found her lucky Monkey King charm buried in the desert

    Todd relaxes as he prepares for 
    a foot massage

    Rachel sketches this ancient pagoda 
    near Crescent Moon Spring

    Todd chooses to focus on the landscape to capture the beauty of the rolling dunes

    Rachel mimics a replica of a Buddha 
    statue in this Dunhuang art studio

    The D3 film crew gathers together one last
    time before journeying back to the U.S.

    Before the Journey to China / 
    April-May 2005

    Rachel in her studio at Potrero Hill

    Todd works on one of his fiery landscapes

    Rachel braves the wind at the Golden Gate

    Rachel and Todd meet for the first time

    Alex films in front of Coit Tower

    Todd sketches the Transamerica Building
  • Viewers
    To request Sketching the Silk Road, contact the TV Programmer at your local PBS station.  

    TV Programmers
    Visit APT Program Catalog for the online Press Kit.

    There are no current airing dates.

  • Title: Sketching the Silk Road   Length: 90 minutes   Format: DVD
    Production Year: 2005

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