Door God woodcut paintings are believed to be able to protect home in China.
A centuries-old woodcut painting is coming to life thanks to Zhang Rongqiang's craftsmanship. The man in southwest China's Sichuan Province has engaged in restoring such endangered folk art for nearly a decade.
Zhang used to collect woodcut prints in Sichuan's Jiajiang County, which is known for age-old block-printing techniques. He began to try making one when he could no longer find such paintings back in 2010.
Woodcut paintings used to be must-have decorations for Chinese lunar new year and other festivals. In the past, a pair of such paintings with images of two legendary majestic warriors were put up on the gate of almost every home to protect their safety, known as Door God.
A classic woodcut print of Sichuan Province's Jiajiang County.
Jiajiang County's woodcut is not only popular in Sichuan Province for its impressive warrior images, but was also listed as an intangible cultural heritage under national protection in 2008.
"Since there were no such paintings available here, I began to look all around for a craftsman to teach me how to make it," Zhang said. He failed to find anyone, but met a collector of old woodcut printing plates. So, Zhang began to learn woodcut printing largely based on the man's collection.
It needs six steps or six plates to print a multi-color Door God. Each plate is carved with different patterns and painted with different colors, and the image can be printed step by step, or board by board, accordingly. Papers are then left to air dry before each of the next five procedures continue.
It takes a sophisticated craftsman a week alone to produce two dozens of half-finished paintings of each of the abovementioned six phases.
The board or plate also requires strict processing that may last six months. Work includes but is not limited to soaking, steaming, retting, cleansing, polishing and stitching.
Zhang Rongqiang is carving a woodcut plate.
Zhang is now running a workshop of simply five craftsmen to meet the narrow demand.
But his efforts to sustain the workshop is paying off.
"A black pottery factory is seeking business opportunities with us recently," Zhang said, "besides, we have received 120,000 yuan (about 20,000 U.S. dollars) as support from the local government this year."
Samples of derivatives of woodcut prints designed by Zhang Rongqiang's workshop
Zhang used part of the fund to innovate their products, such as designing derivatives of tea cups, lampshades and table cloth.
He is convinced that more people will like his woodcut paintings. (All photos by Wang Di)