The ancient art of carving ivory models still flourishes as an industry at the Tashin factory at Kwangchow in The People's Republic of China.
The ancient art of carving ivory models still flourishes as an industry at the Tashin factory at Kwangchow in The People's Republic of China. About 572 craftsmen work in the factory and every year 100 new apprentices start training.
The process of ivory carving, which started 1,000 years ago under the Ching Dynasty, is divided into five stages. First the elephant's tusk, which usually comes from Africa, is cut into three parts. The tip is the most solid part and is used for making the ornamental balls which are very difficult to carve and are a speciality at the Tashin factory. The middle is used for figurines, and the base is carved into small models. After cutting a design is formulated, and sometimes cast in a clay mould for guidance. The ivory is then roughly shaped on a lathe. The fourth stage is the slow and painstaking carving of the ornamentation. Finally, the ornament is polished.
The making of a carved ivory ball can take up to one and a half years. Using a complex technique the craftsman carves 32 balls each one inside another. All of them come form one piece of ivory and the balls are not inserted afterwards, but carved layer by layer.
The factory makes many other designs, including figurines, and ornamented lamp holders.
SYNOPSIS: The intricate art of ivory carving still flourishes at five factories in The People's Republic of China. One of them is the Tashin factory in Kwangchow where five hundred and seventy craftsmen create ivory models of great beauty.
Every year a hundred new apprentices start their three year training. They learn the five stages of ivory carving. The first one is to select a suitable elephant tusk and to divide it into three parts. The tip is the most solid part and is used for making ornamental spheres. The middle section, which is hollow but has thick walls, is best for figurines. The ivory is thinnest at the base and is for small models.
Once the tusk has been sawn up, designs are marked on to the various pieces. If the craftsman is inexperienced a clay model is made for him to follow.
The third stage is to carve the ivory into a round shape before the actual carving of the ornamentation. Most of the present-day techniques have been used by generations of carvers.
The tradition of ivory carving goes back a thousand years to the Ching Dynasty.
This man is working on one of the most complicated and difficult designs at the Tashin factory -- and ivory sphere. Using a very intricate technique, the craftsman carves thirty two spheres, each one fitting inside another one. The whole creation comes from one piece of ivory. The spheres are not inserted afterwards but carved layer by layer. This can take up to one and a half years.
The fifth and final stage is to polish the ball with the ashes of burned rice. Then it is placed on an ornamental stand.
Many other designs are executed by skilled craftsmen at the factory. Other centres of ivory carving in China are Canton and Peking. At the Tashin factory, most of the tusks come form African countries -- mainly Zambia and Tanzania. Some also come from Yunnan province in China itself.
Ivory has always been popular with craftsmen for its grain and smoothe texture.
This lamp-holder shows that modern Chinese craftsmen are maintaining the highest traditions of the past.