Fold it like no other: the fine craft of paper art

Wu Huixin
This year's China Craft Week, Hangzhou's annual cultural festival, was themed "More Than Paper," emphasizing the value of traditional handicrafts to the environment.
Wu Huixin

China Craft Week, Hangzhou's annual cultural festival, has developed a platform for a diverse range of local and international firms to display their artworks and creations.

During the five-day event, which ended on Monday, organizers showcased creative items from home and abroad in a 3,000-square-meter exhibition hall at Hangzhou Creative Design Center.

The exhibition hall's installations and decorations were composed of fire-resistant paper that could be reused, echoing the theme "More Than Paper" and reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Hangzhou, known as the cradle of handicrafts in China, was declared a UNESCO Creative City of Craft in 2012.

The city boasts an incredible number of paper crafts, including Fuyang yuanshu papermaking, Xixing paper lantern, Tonglu County paper cut, paper fan and oil paper umbrella, among many others.

During the previous events, the organizers would invite old masters of traditional folk arts, who were struggling to attract new blood.

This year, organizers shifted their focus to artists who are pioneering new ways to convey traditional forms, such as Liu Tong and Wen Qiuwen.

Fold it like no other: the fine craft of paper art
Ti Gong

A paper leopard by Liu Tong

Liu, a prominent origami artist, is exhibiting his paper-folding works devoted to animal protection, including a paper leopard and rhinoceros.

"Origami can be accessed by the public. People can easily understand my works without any explanations," Liu told Shanghai Daily. "Paper-folding crafts date back thousands of years. However, the craft had not innovated until the 21st century."

His work is made from a single piece of paper without the use of glue or cutting unneeded parts. In recent years, Liu has attempted to make animal art with the intention of raising public awareness about environmental protection.

"Folding paper is akin to protecting our planet. I strive to utilize a piece of paper as much as possible, just as humans carefully examine natural resources," Liu said.

Fold it like no other: the fine craft of paper art
Ti Gong

A paper rhinoceros by Liu Tong

Wen is a pioneering paper sculpting artist. She has brought her lion-head lanterns to the exhibition.

"Paper is a lightweight and adaptable material," said Wen. "I use transparent paper and varied lights to create different expressions on the lion's face.

"In order to give traditional paper lantern works more dynamic vitality, we integrate modern interactive installations."

Tastes change with the passage of time. Traditional crafts are no longer as fashionable as they were when industrial products were widely available and imaginative designs were popular among the general public. It is largely up to dedicated craftspeople to keep the art alive.

In an effort to help preserve historic workmanship, folk craftsmen were also asked to demonstrate their abilities at the exhibition.

Hangzhou artist Wei Lizhong has devoted 30 years to the revival of traditional watercolor woodblock printing. A multi-colored woodblock print is traditionally created using a dozen separate methods.

The time-consuming technique frequently necessitates months of polishing. Woodblocks are meticulously arranged as a mirror-image relief matrix, so that the sections displaying "white" are cut away, allowing the images or characters to be displayed in color at the original surface level.

Fold it like no other: the fine craft of paper art
Ti Gong

Wen Qiuwen uses transparent paper and varied lights for her lion-head lanterns.

Cai Lun invented the pulp papermaking technique in China in the 2nd century BC, which considerably advanced the wheels of Chinese civilization.

Craftspeople from Fuyang District developed Cai's technology and invented yuanshu papermaking techniques.

Fuyang is the birthplace of yuanshu paper, which dates back over 1,900 years.

According to historical records, yuanshu paper grew in popularity during the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127) after it was chosen as the royal paper of Song emperors.

Now, just one factory produces real yuanshu paper – in Fuyang County. Unlike ordinary rice paper, which is mostly constructed of common straw and wood, the components for yuanshu paper must be Fuyang's local maozhu, a temperate species of giant timber bamboo native to China.

The tender maozhu must go through more than 100 steps before becoming a piece of yuanshu paper. This paper has high tensile strength, a smooth surface and resistance to corrosion and mold.

A piece of yuanshu paper is typically 70 centimeters wide and 180 centimeters long. Paper is used not just for writing and drawing in Fuyang County, but also for food packaging and printing.

In ancient times, paper was also the primary material for kites. A few craftspeople in Zhejiang Province still adhere to traditional principles from the past. Chen Disheng is among them.

The paintings of the 80-year-old maestro resemble artworks more likely to be found hanging on a wall than floating high above the city. Chen's kites are typically purchased by visitors for a minimum of 1,000 yuan (US$146).

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