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Carvers make a lifetime's commitment to their art

By Yang Wanli | China Daily | Updated: 2017-05-22 08:01

Other materials, such as bull's bones have limitations in terms of size and shape, so they can only be used for small, simple works.

"Mammoth ivory, the only legal material with a texture similar to elephant ivory, is the best choice. But it's no cheaper, and the amount available is very limited," she said.

Now, only 35 artisans work at the Guangzhou Daxin Ivory Carving Factory in Guangdong province - China's only State-owned ivory facility - but in the 1960s, about 600 people were employed in the company's workshops.

The factory's name, Daxin, is also the name of a street in the center of Guangzhou, Guangdong province, which was famous as the epicenter of the ivory trade during the Qing Dynasty.

Founded in 1955, the factory once had three shops in the street. Years ago, it moved to an old three-story building in a suburb. Many of the carvers left - some moved into other industries, while the rest learned to work with bone or wood, which were far less lucrative trades.

Zhang Minhui, who joined Daxin in 1972 at age 19, is one of the few carvers who enjoyed success after leaving the factory. He now runs his own workshop called the Flower City Boya Craftwork Factory.

Honored as a Guangdong ivory carving master and a National Inheritor of Intangible Cultural Heritage, Zhang Minhui is not only an active artist, he is also passionate about social activities. About 15 titles are printed on his name card, including chairman of the Guangzhou Folk Artists Association and deputy director of the Guangdong Arts and Crafts Association.

His workshop employs about 20 artisans, who work with ivory, bull's bones and mammoth tusks. He only keeps a small stock of ivory, so when that is exhausted, his employees will mainly work with other materials.

"It's not the best option, but it's better than no option. Most experienced craftsmen are age 60 or older and they aren't concerned about losing their jobs. However, the real concern is the fate of ivory carving as an art. It would be a sad loss," he said.

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