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Gourd sculptor crafts a new image for market

Xinhua | Updated: 2022-07-20 06:44
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Following a design showing on her cellphone, Ruan Xiyue, 35, quickly sketched a manned spacecraft on a gourd, completing the first step of gourd sculpture, an intangible cultural heritage of Northwest China's Gansu province.

Coming from a family engaged in gourd sculpture for almost 90 years in Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu, Ruan is not satisfied with just perfecting her technique. Instead, the fourth-generation inheritor aims to bring traditional craftsmanship closer to young people through marketing and sharing.

Dating back more than 1,600 years, gourd sculpture was first developed as a way of decorating portable wine pots made from gourds. The pronunciation of "gourd" in Chinese, which resembles that of "luck and fortune", partly explains its lasting popularity.

For Ruan, the fragrance of gourds is the smell of home. Upon graduating from college, she started learning gourd sculpture from her mother, sitting for hours every day practicing calligraphy and painting, which she deems as the essential training to become a qualified sculptor.

Many elderly craftspeople, like Ruan's mother and grandfather, tend to spend a long time carving complex, traditional patterns, such as peonies and carp, to convey a message of blessing, while Ruan prefers to depict pop culture, such as popular cartoon figures, and paints them in a simplified way.

Ruan has also developed innovative products such as gourd mirrors and gourd necklaces to tap into potential new markets, believing they can help the craft reach more people.

Sales of gourd-related products bring her family around 300,000 yuan ($44,585) per year, says Ruan.

Inside the museum of the intangible cultural heritage in Lanzhou, where Ruan works as a docent, her family opened a gourd sculpting studio in 2010, displaying their works, as well as a history of the art.

Ruan likes talking with visitors at the studio, and their interactions inspired her to launch a course in 2016 to enable people to experience and learn the craft.

According to Ruan, around 800 people attend her courses every year. Among them are students eager to learn something new, and young parents who bring their kids along to enjoy some precious family time.

"Many participants told me that our courses enable them to learn more about the history of Lanzhou, and help make their memories of the city last longer," says Ruan.

Under Ruan's influence, her mother is now livestreaming on social media every day, sharing her stories about gourd sculpture with viewers across the country.

"Sharing is inheriting," says Ruan. "When we share our skills and knowledge with more people, the traditional culture will naturally be spread further."

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