Crafting a future for traditional arts

By Xu Haoyu | China Daily | 2017-12-02 09:49

Crafting a future for traditional arts

Chen Qinghe weaves rattan products. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Rattan weaving

Another exhibitor at the expo Chen Qinghe, 78, comes from Anxi county in Fujian province. He is also a master of a Chinese arts craft that pays attention to a material that's normally underestimated.

In 1958, Chen started to study rattan weaving for the sake of 2-yuan ($1 in the then currency exchange) grant as the only student of the major at the Xiamen Academy of Arts and Design.

He says that 2 yuan covered half his monthly living expenses at that time, "I stayed for the major just because of the grant and I thought the craft would support me in making a living."

After his graduation, he started to produce rattan-weaved thermos cases to sell commercially. He later established a studio where he has been passing down his skills to others.

Chen says he was anxious to prevent the traditional craft from dying out while he found younger generations showing no interest, especially those from the "post-'90s" generation.

To achieve this, in 1991 he created a brand-new craft which combines soft, pliable material of rattan with hard iron.

He has launched a series of baskets, which used rebar as handles with iron wire twined around it to form a grape vine. Iron sheet were cut into grape leaves, and steel balls were soldered together to form clusters of grapes.

At one spring trade fair, the baskets attracted panic buying among overseas customers. Within the space of three days, Chen took in enough advanced orders to last a year's production.

"Innovation is the soul and the lifeblood of the domestic cultural crafts industry," Chen says he has been walking on the road of creation, and he believes that design promotes trade.

Chen claims that the rattan weaving and iron arts has opened a broader market for his home county, "In Anxi county, with a population of 1.2 million, we now have 120,000 people working in basket-making and its related industries. And the value of its total output over the past seven years has reached 10.8 billion yuan."

In June, Chen successfully introduced Chinese lacquer art into rattan weaving.

"Lacquer art is a national intangible cultural heritage, and so is rattan weaving." He speaks of his creations with pride, "The production process is not easy, and needs more than 10 steps."

Chen says, "What we have to pass on is the craftsman's spirit of making perfection more perfect."

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