Museum attempts to raise awareness on traditional craftsmanship with exhibit

Wu Huixin
Lacquer works and seals, wooden sculptures and porcelains produced with the infusion of new ideas are featured in the exhibition.
Wu Huixin

Zhejiang Museum has been luring craftspeople from across the nation for months in a bid to build a talent pool of art.

Ever since it initiated the "Arts and Crafts in Process" project last year, it has organized local artisans to visit Shanxi Province, hoping to inject some new inspiration into their crafts.

Now, the museum is hosting an exhibition to promote the public awareness of protecting traditional craftsmanship, showing 40 sets of works from 15 craftspeople involved in the project.

Visitors can see traditional works, from lacquer crafts and seals to wooden sculptures and porcelains, that have thrived under the influence of new ideas and witnessed the development of local cultural heritage.

Many artisans were inspired by Buddhism during their trips in Shanxi Province. Wooden sculpture maker Yu Boqing got his ideas from the landscape in Jincheng City, Shanxi Province.

Museum attempts to raise awareness on traditional craftsmanship with exhibit
Ti Gong

Yu Boqing's wooden sculpture

Visitors can linger over some of his terrifically detailed sculptures made of nanmu, a type of wood that is frequently used for boat building, architectural woodworking and wood art. The wood is highly valued for its resistance to decay, with little splintering or warping.

Zheng Xingguo, 58, has become a byword for top-flight wooden-carving craftsmanship in Shaoxing City. He has been sculpting for more than 30 years, and is an entitled "Inheritor of Zhejiang's Intangible Cultural Heritage" by virtue of his superb skills.

Most of his works were engraved on ancient wood which had been buried underground for millennia. The scarcity of suitable material makes Zheng's carvings precious, their value approaching that of gemstones and other precious materials.

Wu Yaohui, 59, has been carving boxwood for more than 30 years and enjoying prestige in this field. In 2018, Wu was named as a "National Craft and Art Master" by virtue of his superb carving techniques and great contribution to boxwood sculpture.

Vivid figures and a glossy finish characterize his works. Traditionally, Buddhist characters and immortals were major subjects of this art. However, Wu picks ordinary life scenes, such as elegant women, animals and flowers, as his themes, evidenced by the exhibits.

Southeast Zhejiang Province boasts ample boxwood trees with a fine and smooth texture – a tough type of wood superior to others. Boxwood sculptures darken over time, giving them a cherished quaint tone.

A single boxwood sculpture goes through several stages of molding, cutting, carving, polishing and lacquering, which often takes Wu months to complete.

Museum attempts to raise awareness on traditional craftsmanship with exhibit
Ti Gong

Wu Yaohui's boxwood carving

South Zhejiang Province is also home to precious stones featuring glaze colors similar to jade. Magically shaped by artists, such sculptures are sought-after by virtue of their colorful hues, jade-like texture and depictions of landscapes, pastoral scenes, legends and flowers.

Natural colors and textures endow the stones with the potential to become exquisite works of art, no matter what they look like originally, and the crafts involved are regarded as the epitome of Zhejiang's folk art.

Xu Yongli, 57, has engaged in stone carving for more than 40 years and has received many national prizes and awards. She is the only craftswoman dubbed as a "Senior Craft Master" in Zhejiang Province.

For centuries, Zhejiang craftspeople have taken advantage of the various forms and colors of the local stones to create crafts which integrate natural beauty with religion.

Xu is no exception.

The work "Cundī" typifies her integration of artistic knowledge and professional technique. The natural white stone presents the purity and sanctity of Cundī, a bodhisattva venerated in Mahayana Buddhism with emphasis on her practice in Vajrayana Buddhism.

As the stones have a myriad of textures and colors, Xu has to design according to original hues and forms to augment the stone's advantages.

For example, red is suitable for flowers while white suits figures. Mixed colors sometimes require her to make a significant change in the original design.

Also, a stone is made up of different minerals. The rough texture cannot be polished into a glossy finish, but fine part could be carved with smooth lines and surfaces.

After years of practice, Xu has found the simplest work always has the best charm despite the changing aesthetics.

Museum attempts to raise awareness on traditional craftsmanship with exhibit
Ti Gong

Xu Yongli's stone carving "Cundī"

Date: Through November 27 (closed on Mondays), 9am-5pm
Admission: Free
Venue: Zhejiang Museum's Gushan Pavilion
Address: 25 Gushan Rd


Special Reports