Monday, 29 December 2014

Bamboo-root carvings

Do you know that bamboo-roots, most people would regard them as waste products, can be turned into beautiful art pieces that can be well sought after by collectors?


I have one such bamboo-root carving which I bought when I was on a tour in Szechuan in an area known as the Bamboo Sea. There were so much bamboo trees planted everywhere, from the cable car the view did look like a sea of bamboo trees, hence the name Bamboo Sea. The carving I bought was a portrait of an old man laughing unceasingly with the roots as his long beards and thick eye brow. It has been hanging on the wall of my kitchen for many years.

Bamboo-root carving of an old man
In China, bamboo-root carving was not a new art form. In fact it was very popular during the Qing dynasty where some antique pieces can still be found in museums or in private collectors' hands.

To begin, one has to harvest the bamboo-root from the field. He needs to study the form of the bamboo-roots to decide his subject matter.

However, the art of bamboo-root carving declined after the collapse of the last dynasty with fewer and fewer people working on this material. At one time there was hardly anyone around who knew the art and technique of bamboo-root carving. When people have harvested the bamboo trees for making useful house-hold products, they would just throw away the roots or burn them as a source of heat.

It was a man's passion for wood carving that revived this ancient art form. As wood was rather an expensive material for carving, he turned to bamboo-roots as the material for his carving needs. As the bamboo roots were considered as waste products, he would get them free or for a very low price. He experimented for quite some time until he perfected the skills required to carve these bamboo-roots.

Initially he faced an uphill task to revive this art form as people still would not accept bamboo-roots carving as objects of art. He had a hard time selling his carvings as no one would invest such art pieces made from wastes. He found life to be very tough as he had not enough money even to buy the simplest meals, a bowl of plain noodles.

But soon things change for the better when he exhibited his works at a trade fare and a westerner admired his works. He then received a contract of 50000 RMB to produce hundreds of these carvings for export. With that order, he started a factory and hired people to assist him to carry out the business. Then business began to improve and he became quite famous in the region as a craftsman in bamboo-root carving.

He later realized that in order to succeed as a professional, he needed to inject some cultural aspects into these art so that his creations could be considered as master-pieces. He began to research in the history of ancient China and other aspects of culture and ancient legends and historical figures. Soon he was able to inject culture and history into his works. He also made use of the roots in the bamboo to reflect the beauty of the subjects he had crafted. His works began to appeal more to collectors who are looking for some artistic aspects in the carvings. The carving below shows a general who was active during the Three Kingdoms Era. His name was Chang Fei and the roots of the bamboo spreading outwards and his two round eyes really depicted the man in the novel.

 He was able to use the roots of the bamboo to match his subjects and the end result was really a masterpiece of art. No wonder he was later awarded the title national grand master of art.

 If you ever go to Szechuan for holidays, you will see a lot of these bamboo-root carvings on sale in villages and market places. They are not expensive. I got mine for only 10 RMB a few years ago.

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