In October 2014 I went to Dongyang, China, to coordinate an international wood sculpture competition (see Projects). As always with these trips, meeting old friends, building new friendships, and sharing amazing experiences were the best parts of it all.
Terry, Jon, Betty and Silvio in front of an elephant assembled from giant burls.
As always, everything is bigger in China.
Apart from the competition, there were other highlights. Silvio and I visited a carving workshop where we watched the workers create deep relief carvings in the Donyang style.
Silvio chats with the master while the work proceeds. The carver is using a classic Dongyang mallet
to cut away the deeper parts of the drawn design which is pasted on the wood.
This tells the whole story. The availability of inexpensive tools of a bewildering variety
means every carver keeps a large number ready to hand. The part that remains uncut,
still covered by the printed design, will be the highest portions of the finished product.
Designs are rarely original – usually copied from classic scrolls.
This delightfully happy woman is typical of the carvers you can meet in such a workshop.
She has been doing this work for many years, is highly skilled and hard-working,
but never given the credit or pay that the men get. When Terry asks such women what they think of that,
they usually laugh and say, “What can you do, that’s the way it is!”
Passing a workshop in the street – more busy women carvers.
During the high-flown celebrations surrounding the wood sculpture competition, I slipped away as often as I could with friends to see the real life of Dongyang. As always, the workers who struggle to survive in a cut-throat economy are the best people to meet, friendly without any thought of what they can get from you.
This smiling street vendor holds her traditional scales in her left hand
as she stands beside her ancient delivery bike.
After Dongyang I went to Nantong to be one of the judges for a major international craft biennale. I was delighted to make the acquaintance of Dr. Qaddumi of Kuwait, the World Craft Council representative for the Asia-Pacific region. Her wisdom and humility were very refreshing.
Terry and Dr. Qaddumi of Kuwait, the World Craft Council representative for the Asia-Pacific region.
After Dongyang I made a brief trip to nearby Shanghai to recharge my batteries. Along the Bund,
the celebrated waterfront promenade, I found these women from the countryside admiring
the super-modern view. How far it must seem from their home village.
Just behind them I saw this woman. Unlike the other women, she only had eyes for herself.
But even she was trumped by this pair, who I saw again an hour later, still taking selfies of themselves.
The contrast between these groups of women confirms just what a tricky future China has to negotiate….
From Dongyang I travelled to Nanning where I had met Professor Luo of Guangxi University the previous year. He heads a wood technology and design department, and invited me back to work with his students for one month to teach design theory and woodturning practice. I was looked after by post-grad. student Harry, who proved to be one of the most likable and reliable people I have met in China.
Terry showing Harry, his constant guide in Nanning, how to turn a honey dipper.
The wonderfully alert and friendly Tao Ying looks on.
My time at Guangxi University was a steep learning curve. The campus is vast with around 100,000 students. It is a city in its own right with markets, bicycle repair shops, and everything a student might need. I ate in the student cafeteria, lived among high-density dormitories, and every day negotiated the teeming streets where silent electric scooters sneaked up behind you at alarming speed.
As I strolled the campus gardens I encountered this delightful scene - while her grandchild looks on,
this woman practises kung fu. The lack of space in homes means that Chinese flock to such public spaces
for exercise. It is an ever-changing theatre.
After a long month in Nanning, my next stop was my third visit to Wenzhou Special School (see Projects). I was following up on a recent visit by my friend Ernie Newman who was representing the AAW there, training the school staff to teach woodturning. Ernie had covered basic spindle turning and I was starting them on faceplate turning. First I entertained the hearing-impaired students with some finger-top turning. When Mr. Zhu, the school woodwork teacher, showed his top-turning skills, it was clear Ernie had done his job well.
The students admire the shavings while Mr, Zhu, to the left of me, watches.
As always, I have never met a better group of young people.
Then it was Mr Zhu’s time to learn bowl-turning.
I hope this program continues as the children are poised to benefit from all that we have started.
During this trip, for the first time my daughter Yumi came to visit China and we travelled together to Lushan in Sichuan province, further west than I have travelled before. It was such a delight to share my experiences with her. Ever since she was a baby her father has been disappearing for months at a time to travel the world on woodworking adventures, so it was long overdue.
Terry and Yumi in Sichuan province.
We were in Lushan to teach woodturning to Mr Yu and the staff of his woodcarving business. I had met Mr Yu the previous year and he had invited me to travel to his home. What we did not know was that the region had been struck by an enormous earthquake and we were confronted by a city in ruins with people struggling to survive among destroyed homes and devastated infrastructure.
The devastation in Lushan.
Carvers work with the enormous local woods under temporary plastic shelters.
Woodcarvers working in the surviving remnants of their workshop.
The best moments were when we ate our meals with the workshop staff.
Yumi could not resist trying this tricycle. I wish we could have taken it home.