The Carvings of Time: San Yi Taiwan, Famous Wood Carvings of Asia

January 6, 2020

San Yi, Taiwan: The Wood Carving Kingdom of Asia

Sun Yi is the Wood Carving Kingdom of Taiwan. It’s Located about an hour south of Taipei City, the capital of Taiwan. San Yi is a rule town in the northwestern mountains of Miaoli with a history that has taken on many different shapes. From Japanese rule to Chinese tea fields, to the tourist attraction it has become today, San Yi has a history that continuously reflects the shifting of time. 

These days there is still plenty to see in and around Sanyi including Shengshi Station,  the Longteng Bridge, and the 3D Painted Ladder. San Yi, Taiwan is a great place to spend day out of the busy cities and see some beautiful countryside while still having access to plenty of things to do. But, the main reason why this town is so popular with travelers and tourists is its MuDou, or its wood carvings.

How the Wood Carvings are Made

The carvings go through many forms before they make it here to San Yi, Taiwan. First, the trees are cut down for this or that reason. Then, roots get pulled and taken to be cleaned, chopped and divided amongst artists, shop owners and mass replicators. Most wood comes from Taiwan, but others, like the Dragon Cypress or Vietnamese Sandalwood, get imported to create a variety of textures and color in the work.

“There is a difference though,” Woodseller Wang Hu told us. “The shops and the replicators will just buy the wood. They have found what it will become already, even before seeing it.” He took us to the sprawling backyard of his shop to see how the roots are cleaned once they get shipped in. He continued, “The artist looks closely. He looks at the shape, the color, the way which the wood grew into the ground like he is trying to find something in it.  Then they leave, off to change into something else.”

An Artists Shop

In the back of the shop is a small room lit with a few lights, power-tools lay on the ground next to blocks of wood and carving instruments. The father, the mother the son all run Chufeng Gallery together.

Lai Yung-fa is the main carving artist having displayed his work around the world with many distinguishing awards to prove it. The son, has also taken on the same skill, while the mother wearing gloves the whole time we spent with them,  weaves baskets out of self cut bamboo strips. His voice is low and soft, while his face and demeanor resembles his father, quiet and content. The mother moved through the background of the shop with her red gloves and cutting tool in hand.

A Sign of the Times

Johan lifted his camera, “No pictures of our work, please,” the son said. “People can see it on the internet and make the same one. This is something we do not want.” Throughout the streets you can see signs asking visitors for no pictures of the art. A struggle artists often have in today’s age of social media and image sharing; replication. “We imagine and create these images. To us, it is very personal.”

For a larger piece to be completed, it takes about two years, maybe more. A long relationship is created between the sculptors and their works. “I can look at a finished piece, and read it like a journal,” one of the artists told us.

 




























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