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Gourd Art

China has a long history of growing gourds -- large, fleshy fruit with a hard outer coat -- which craftsmen made good use of to produce apparatuses of different shapes. The gourd is the symbol of Li Tieguai, one of the Eight Immortals, which represents his power to free his soul from his body. It also symbolizes longevity and the ability to ward off evil spirits. Due to its practicality and aesthetic beauty, gourds are much loved by the Chinese people.

Gourd art involves creating works of art on gourd shells via carving, shaping, polishing, painting, etc. Records of gourd art first appeared in Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) history books, tracing it back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The key to gourd art is to use the techniques of carving or painting to decorate gourd shells without altering the original shape, which can not only increase the aesthetic beauty of the apparatus but also transform it into a work of a high artistic value.

Gourd craftwork is made of creeping plants that only grow in warm, dry places. After the harvest, before the gourd is decorated, it is thoroughly washed and dried until it becomes smooth. To carve the gourd, cut off its top, remove its seeds, and clean and polish its insides.

The work of carving and color painting can then begin. Since the gourd shell is quite thin, high relief art is impractical; gourd carving often employs the technique of tidi carving -- a form of woodcarving that retains the main lines of the gourd shell to create a beautiful gradation of space.

Actually, the carved gourd is a general name for mould-making or directly engraving gourd. The mould-made gourd is produced by putting unripe gourd into a wooden mould of a certain shape or pattern. The carving skills include needle engraving, relief carving, etc. Apparatuses carved out of gourd range from wine sets to spice containers, to other trinkets, etc.

Since carving gourd creates a fine dust that contains mold particles that can harm your respiratory system, wearing a surgical mask and protective glasses is highly recommended. (The cost of a good mask - not a paper one -- is equivalent to the cost of a doctor's visit.)

Color painting is the most prevalent way of decorating gourd. After drawing elaborate patterns on the gourd shell, the artist incorporates bright colors to create a beautifully painted gourd. Color painting involves both the calligraphy and painting techniques: The painted gourd is not only a work of art, but also a color painting.

The delicate images painted or carved into gourds are more than just carvings -- each gourd tells a story. Inspecting most gourds closely, one will find that the represented themes include festivities, landscapes and daily life.

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