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Carving out a Legacy

Pub Date: 16-05-16 16:49 Source: chinadaily.com.cn

Craftsman Wu Pei (second from the right) in Heifei city of Anhui province shows kindergarten kids a ship model which he built in his workshop. PHOTOS PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY

The multiple scars on Cao Huangsheng's left hand are hurting, and he knows that is an indication that the rainy season has arrived.

Nevertheless, he resumes carving a piece of wood in his rustic workshop in Chengkan village, located in the city of Huangshan, Anhui province.

Though they may be somewhat unsightly, the scars are a symbol of Cao's enduring passion for his craft. The 47-year-old has been a wood carving artist for almost 30 years and he attributes this longevity to his unwavering dedication to craftsmanship.

While he admittedly started his career imitating the works of famous artists, Cao is now one of the most respectable figures in the industry. Today, he makes millions of yuan annually from his business, a stark contrast to the days when he would make just 7 yuan ($1.07) a day as a carpenter.

Cao dropped out of middle school in the late 1980s and entered the workforce, becoming an apprentice to his uncle, a carpenter who specialized in making traditional Chinese furniture. However, Cao got tired of carpentry in the 1990s and decided to seek greener pastures.

It was during this time when he came across a book containing images of ancient wooden sculptures. Intrigued by the art form, Cao set out to learn more about the craft. The first few years of his endeavour was defined by wastage and spilled blood. He spent three years learning how to use the axes and planes required for the craft.

"When I first started to learn wood carving, I was not very skilled and my hand often got hurt by the knives. A lot of precious wood was wasted, too," said Cao.

After he had mastered the technicalities of the craft, it was clear that Cao had the talent for sculpting. It takes him months, sometimes years, to create just one piece of art, but his efforts are almost always justified.

His works are priced as high as hundreds of thousands of yuan but business has nevertheless been rather brisk. Most of his clients are discerning collectors who have no qualms shelling out that kind of money for the kind of quality workmanship Cao is renowned for.

In 2012, Cao was honored by the Ministry of Culture as a "national inheritor of intangible cultural heritage" for his craft. The next year, he was appointed as the academic supervisor for graduate students at the Chinese National Academy of Arts.

Another reputable artist in Huangshan is Wu Linshui, a brick carver who started his career around the same time as Cao. Similarly, Wu is a self-taught artist known for his attention to details and a determination to produce works of outstanding craftsmanship.

"The local residents believe that good craftsmanship is timeless. It is a way of life here," said Wu, who hails from the city's Shexian county and was in 2011 given the title of a provincial level inheritor for brick carving cultural heritage

Over in Shushan district in Hefei, the capital of Anhui province, Wu Pei is in the midst of completing a model of a warship in his studio.

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Editor: Rita

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