Shanghai inkstone sculpture: A thing of beauty that helps create beauty

In many Chinese calligraphers and painters' hearts, ink slabs are a precious and indispensable article of the writing table.

Filmed by Tang Dafei. Edited by Zhong Youyang. Translated by Wang Xinzhou. Polished by Andy Boreham.

In many Chinese calligraphers and painters’ hearts, ink slabs are a precious and indispensable article of the writing table, and they're considered a main part of the "four stationery treasures" of Chinese study.

Ink slabs are designed for scholars and artists in the area of Chinese writing, calligraphy and painting. But apart from their practical function, did you know some are also prized for their aesthetic?

Originated in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Shanghai style inkstone sculpture is an ancient carving art where ink slabs are decorated with exquisite shapes using consummate engraving skills. 

The theme of Shanghai style inkstone sculpture includes insects, animals, vegetables, fruit and so on, which all have unique local characteristics.

Ding Weiming, 63, an inkstone sculpture master at the Shanghai Arts and Crafts Museum on downtown Fenyang Road has been working in the area for almost 40 years. 

Born in a Chinese medicine family, Ding was deeply influenced by traditional Chinese culture, especially regarding engraving art, when he was a little boy.

In his teens, he decided to learn Shanghai style inkstone sculpture, and it soon became his lifelong interest.

“I am a happy amateur in inkstone sculpture, not a master or an artist.” Ding said with a modest smile.

His work also reflects his mentality. Different from other sculpture works with complicated shapes and skills, Ding’s works keep and remain the original and natural state of the stones being used.

“Making ink slabs is a cooperation with nature,” Ding said. “It depends what the stone wants to do.”

In his mind, the first and most important thing when he starts to create a work is to understand the original idea of a stone — sometimes it takes several years, and sometimes several decades.

“What has the stone told me? What have I learned from it?” he said. “Then I express what I have learned.”

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