The 2018 Wood Artists Cultural Exchange at Wenzhou School for Special Education
Back in November, I was invited to take part in the above initiative in Wenzhou, China along with a separate event in Kaihua (that I shall tackle in a future blog). As I’d never been to China before, and the schedule looked interesting, I was very happy to accept.
In a nutshell, the event involved me joining a group of 14 international wood carvers that would be tasked with producing a carving in under 3 days using boxwood root. For the entire carving period we would all be mentoring a student from the Wenzhou School for Special Education.
First stage. All 14 wood carvers were asked to select one piece of wood from a collection of box wood root sections. My choice is pictured left before carving started. I loved the way the roots were still holding some pieces of rock, so I wanted to maintain that aspect in the finished sculpture.
After wood selection we were paired up with students that would be helping us. My co-carver was a young man called Dingagi. He was excellent. The language barrier was no problem at all because Dingagi was completely deaf. We managed to communicate by sign language of sorts and smartphone translation app. Dingagi had laser-like focus, took on-board every nuance of technique that I demonstrated to him and showed real skill with an intent to improve. And no, the photo (right) is not of me showing what happens when finger meets the business end of a sharp gouge.
The event was organised by the World Wood Day Foundation, Wenzhou School for Special Education and Wenzhou Special Education Guidance Centre. The gentleman standing with me in the photo (left) is Mr. YE Mengchun (dean of Wenzhou Arts and Crafts Research Institute). He is a 5th generation Master carver of box wood and generously treated all the wood carvers to a tour of his extensive galleries and workshops (his own carving area in his office is shown above). He then took all of us to a very lovely restaurant for dinner. What a guy.
The next couple of days were predominantly taken up with
carving the box wood root alongside Dingagi. The tradition of root carving suggests that approximately 70% of the root is left natural, with 30% being carved in sympathy with the original form. With this in mind and my stump of box wood guiding me, I was inspired to turn our root into a prowling octopus (the finished piece is shown right).
Us 14 international carvers were joined by around half a dozen Chinese root carvers and we were all working together in the schools’ large sports hall. It was a fantastic experience to wander around (while taking the odd break from carving), to look at the range of tools being used, the varying techniques employed and chatting about the differences (and similarities) in our approaches to the art of wood sculpture. It was a rare thing (and a great honour) to be amongst so many excellent exponents of wood carving.
During the whole event everyone was extremely well taken care of. Everything was laid on: transport, food accommodation, even entertainment. On one occasion we were treated to an evening of “Music and Pleasure” with the “Silk Road Mini Concert”. This, among other things, included live performances by some top musicians playing a variety of traditional instruments, of such beautifully named pieces as “Crane Singing in Xuanwu”, “Moonlit” and “Wild Geese on the Sandbank”. This music accompanied visual entertainments such as a tea ceremony and performance calligraphy. It was all truly wonderful.
On a rest day, a trip to a museum of folk art and a tour of the Yandang Mountain area was arranged (photo left). All the carvers appreciated the chance to get out and stretch their legs for a bit.
One of the other master carvers that I feel I really should mention, is Master Gau Gongbo. Another very accomplished and talented box wood carving specialist. Amongst many other things he is the “Arts and Crafts Master of China”; vice chair of the “China Root Carving Art Institute” and “Master tutor of the Chinese National Academy of Art”. Apart from all this, he is a really kind and generous man. and painted for each of us a traditional Chinese scroll (see photo below of all the carvers and Master Gau in the middle, between the two tallest). Also, during one of the evening performances, Master Gau undertook some performance calligraphy (well he is vice president of the “Painting and Calligraphy Committee of the China Arts and Crafts Institute”.)
The photo on the left shows one of the box wood root carvings by Master Gau, which shows beautifully the way he uses natural features of the wood and keeps the actual carving to a bare minimum.
Finally, after all the carving was completed, photos were taken of the carvers, students and their work, presentations of certificates made etc. It was time to say farewell to Dingagi, the other students and our hosts for this part of the China wood carving experience. As a thank you to Dingagi for his enthusiasm and interest and as a memory of our time together I presented him with one of my gouges with which he seemed most happy (see face below).
The event at Wenzhou was finished off with a full blown concert and party that was organised and performed by the staff and students of the school. It included: music, dance, marionation, party games (with audience participation – which was at times frankly hilarious) and to top it off, the school principal contributed an excellent rendition of “O Sole Mio” in Chinese (which is a first for me).
Altogether, this was a great and enjoyable event from which, I believe, all participants gained much. The second stage of this carving extravaganza in China shall shortly be covered in another blog.
Many thanks for reading.