Cork carvings are artwork carved out of Robur bark, making advantage of the ductile and porous nature of the wood to form miniature sculptures of mainly traditional Chinese architectures and landscapes. Wu Qiqi, a native of Fuzhou, was the artist that invented this method of carving, and was honored the Father of Cork-carving Art. Mr. Wu enrolled in Fujian Handicrafts School to study the wood working in the year of 1910. And 5 years later, landscape paintings were introduced to China from Europe. This new art form was included in the Wu’s school curriculum, and instantly galvanized Wu’s interest. It’s his passion that motivated him to innovate the western techniques he learnt, and combined with Chinese approach on water paintings. He was encouraged by the appreciation from the people around him, and proceeded to start the first cork-carving studio in China and earned a slew of awards for their creations.His apprentices continued to contribute exquisite pieces influenced by Wu’s innovations and dedication to the art.
As mentioned in Cork Carving Part One, Fuzhou cork carvings are taken as one of Fuzhou’s Three Superexcellences alongside bodiless lacquer ware(脱胎漆器) and Shoushan stone carvings(寿山石雕). The craft’s combination of carving skills and traditional painting techniques made it unique, and acceptable to immense applause from home and abroad. Cork carvings use complex techniques to create vivid life like designs of a variety of natural images. Beautiful natural scenery is the predominant subject for Fuzhou cork carvings.
Many carvings feature a white or black paper background which highlights the dimensions of the cork carvings. The cork carvings are framed in a three dimensional case so the amazing art work can be seen from all angles. This kind of framing originated in the ancient Chinese garden art called “framed landscapes”. Windows and openings were architecturally structured to highlight beautiful images and scenery in the gardens. This art form is commonly seen in Chinese gardens and parks where people can admire magnificent natural scenery framed by windows, bridge arches and openings. Many Fuzhou cork carvings are influenced by classical Chinese paintings and feature more than five hundred different designs and varieties.
The materials used for cork carvings are non-corroding, fade resistant and insect resistant. Cork is also water resistant and its form cannot be changed by chemicals. The Robur Bark used for the cork carvings is mainly imported from Spain, Portugal and the Middle East.
Special, unique tools are used to cut the cork into different sizes and textured pieces. There are more than ten different tools used to create various effects; the tools allow the carver to carve fine intricate details onto windows, lattices, rafters, tiles and other parts of the design. The main procedures involved in creating Fuzhou cork carvings involve cutting, carving, assemblage and framing. Modern skills have been adapted from other crafts such as lacquer ware to increase the variety and range of techniques available. These new techniques have allowed cork carvings to extend to permanent screens, portable screens and vases.
Fuzhou cork carvings are a nationally treasured and unique Chinese art.They engulf the essence of traditional Chinese culture with the modern styles influenced by the west. Many more people are discovering the beauty and realistic qualities of this folk art. Hopefully it will remain a popular craft with future artists.