Feb 25, 2019
When I saw Yuan Zhongping, he was lying down on his stomach on a huge brick carving and concentrating on his sculpture work. Yuan told us that this large gold brick carving that he was working on was made according to the original of a famous ancient painting called “Prosperity of Gusu,” only twice the size. It took him nearly a year to finish about seven meters of the projected 25 meters. It still needed him and a dozen other artists to work together for three more years to be completed.
Born into a family of gold brick firers, Yuan Zhongping has had a special affection for gold bricks since his childhood. Before he knew much about life, he enjoyed watching his family making gold bricks and quickly became a little helping hand for his elders. After he grew up, Yuan Zhongping established his studio named, Yuan’s Hall. Various kinds of his gold brick artworks and many old gold bricks left by Yuan’s ancestors are displayed in Yuan’s Hall. Each of the old gold bricks has the time of firing, name of maker and place of origin carved on its side. Some even have more than 70 Chinese characters carved on them, recording the names of the relevant province, prefecture, officials and chiefs of boroughs and subdistricts. Such records contain much information about the politics and economy at the time these bricks were made, making them valuable cultural relics. One brick has “Made by Yuan Hongde” carved on its side. This man was an ancestor of Yuan Zhongping.
Surounded by the gold bricks made by his ancestors, Yuan Zhongping studies carefully and works earnestly and diligently. He keeps improving his gold brick making technique and expands the practical functions of gold bricks. Starting in 2001, his gold brick artworks, including Cricket Pot with a Picture of a Hundred Children, The Tactic of Winning a Battle, Kylin Summoning a Real Dragon, Ancient Art in a Light Breeze and Heaven, Earth, Cloud and Dragon have won major national awards successively. In 2007 gold brick artworks he designed and made were picked as trophies for the Eighth China Folk Literature and Art Mountain Flower Award. Gold bricks have a compact and fine quality that makes them easy to carve. They have a soft feel like skin when touched with the fingers. They feel very comfortable to the grasp. They also have the features of good air permeability and water absorption. On the basis of these characteristics, Yuan Zhongping has developed many artworks that have practical daily uses such as gold brick tablet, paper weight and seal knob. He turns gold bricks, which only people in imperial palaces and senior officials and nobles had the chance to use in the past, into articles for daily use that common people can afford and use today.
Now Yuan Chao, the 21-year- old son of Yuan Zhongping, has become a good helping hand for his father. He is greatly interested in the gold brick making technique that his father cherishes. Under the personal teaching of his father, Yuan Chao has learned very quickly. Within only a few years, he became familiar with gold brick making and brick carving techniques. This gives Yuan Zhongping great pleasure and satisfaction.
About the Column
Carving Arts in Suzhou
Carving Arts in Suzhou is a book compiled by the Information Office of Suzhou Municipal People's Government and published by Foreign Languages Press Co. Ltd. The good things in Suzhou are hidden and living freely in it without giving any hint of their existence. So you need to make extra efforts if you really want to get an eye-opening experience in Suzhou.