Liu Chao's family has been filigree inlay artworks craftsmen for three generations, and they have devoted almost all their time to this craft.
But in China, some traditional craft are facing the crisis of being lost, so how did Liu Chao inherit and carry forward the traditional craft of filigree inlay?
Filigree inlay (花丝镶嵌), also known as "fine gold art", is a long-established traditional Chinese handicraft technique, mainly used in the production of royal jewelry, in ranked among the Eight Unique Skills of Yanjing (original name of Beijing).
In 1963, Liu Chao's maternal grandfather Li Yucheng learned "filigree inlay" from an old artist, and now it has been 57 years.
From the grandfather, to Liu Chao's mother, to Liu Chao today. More than 20 years ago, Liu Chao used to follow his father and go to the street stall with the filigree inlay Ruyi, and with the change of time, a new generation of craftsmen has inherited these crafts.
In Liu Chao's case, it is apparent to see the seemingly contradictory combination of innovation and tradition in the new generation of craftsmen.
On the one hand, he is considered to be a person who follows the trend of the times and is the first to use e-commerce to promote the technique of filigree inlay. He was also the first craftsman to think of combining filigree inlay with Chinese hanfu clothing.
On the other hand, Liu Chao starts working at 7 am every day, rolling silver bars and filing the tips of silver wires, and he has been guarding the traditional art of filigree inlay for ten years.
If a person is proficient in a skill, he can be called a craftsman. But the craftsman not only has to refine his skills, but also has to fight against time, and in their eyes, it is this confrontation that generates the true art of craftsmanship.
In addition to passing on the skill, Liu Chao has a bigger ambition - to let more people know about filigree inlay.
Heritage Filigree Inlay Art
Liu Chao, born in 1990, grew up watching his family making filigree inlay.
In the hot summer, his grandfather and father pounded the thick gold and silver pestle into thick threads, and then stretched the thick gold and silver threads through the different apertures of the thread pulling board; the women did some fine work, weaving the thin threads into different patterns and shapes of the backing, which formed his whole impression of filigree inlay as a child.
In Liu Chao's grandfather's and mother's generation, filigree inlay flourished for about ten years. At the time, the craft, which served for Chinese royalty, quickly caught everyone's attention.
But with the development of the times, the iteration of the trend is faster and faster, the traditional filigree jewelry began to decline, into a niche collection of hobby, Liu Chao family's business is gradually down, some production workshops have been abandoned, only a few works left.
In order to open the sales, Liu Chao and his family began to take the filigree inlay crafts run around the country. Various flea markets, jewelry fairs and antique markets are their stall venues.
Every craftsman can't escape the beating of time and the market, but it's good to have faith to support. But Liu Chao, at first, actually did not find his faith.
The young Liu Chao, still wanting to see the outside world, did not sink his heart into becoming a successor, but instead began to enter a new field to start his career. But he would always wonder if it would still be the same if he was rooted in one industry for 20 years.
When Liu Chao returned home, the filigree inlay business was almost out of business, with very few orders and no sales channels. Only grandfather and parents were still silently persisting and taking some scattered orders.
"This craft has been in decline, but for the first time I have such a strong feeling that it is about to disappear." In Liu Chao's heart, filigree inlay is not simply an art, but more like a symbol of family style. That moment hit him, "No, I can't lose it."
Now, more than ever, he has the patience and motivation to spend the next few decades focusing on just one thing, filigree inlay.
Sharpening skills and trying to change
Liu Chao took over his grandfather's factory, and when it was handed over to him, the efficiency was extremely poor.
Before he could think about how to revitalize the factory, Liu Chao ushered in the first hurdle: practicing his craft.
The craft of filigree inlay relies heavily on manual skills and experience, and the time required to train a master can be as short as three to five years or as long as several decades, requiring a high degree of time and patience, which discourages many young apprentices.
The silver bar burned by fire becomes softer and easier to pull, Liu Chao practice at least 10 hours a day; the water is cold in winter, inevitably freezing hands; ignition processing and hot, hands added many scars by sparks; and acid corrosion, stabbing. Liu Chao hands often have large and small wounds.
Hair-thin filaments shaped in the fire, a small mistake may lead to 1 month of hard work before it is lost.
"The story of an iron rod down to a needle, for others, is just an allusion, but in the line of filigree craftsmen, is the basis for entry into the industry." Liu Chao sighs.
Refine the craft at the same time, Liu Chao also urgently needs to open new sales. In 2018, Liu Chao tried to open an online store, no longer just to face the once fixed group of customers. In the past, most of the handicraft transactions were offline transactions, and the buyer population was extremely segmented.
On the e-commerce platform, Liu Chao was surprised to find that netizens have a certain degree of demand for "filigree inlay" handicrafts, which are collected or used for decoration, but they just don't know where to buy. Liu Chao felt that the new way for this ancient art to bring change and boost.
Combining with Hanfu, both traditional, but innovative
More than 50 years have passed, and filigree inlay has become a national intangible heritage project in China.
Liu Chao had a thorough understanding early on: if want to revive the intangible cultural heritage, we have to change the appearance.
The change is the expression of outside forms, try to make new subjects, so that the tradition and the current trend of collision. The appearance of the craft is very limited when the expression goes on within the limits of the rules.
In addition to reproduction, there must be more innovative and trendy designs. Breaking away from the established box is a big step taken by Liu Chao.
At the earliest, Liu Chao had created an incense bag, combining burned enamel and filigree, combined with the hottest Forbidden City culture of the moment, this incense bag is different from traditional handicrafts in terms of shape fullness, or the pattern on it, and thus brought a considerable order for the factory.
In his opinion, the word heritage, in addition to inheritance, but also need better to spread.
As more and more people wear hanfu, jewelry matching with hanfu is also becoming popular. Liu Chao began to do some promotion with hanfu stores, combining filigree inlay handicrafts and hanfu to create a different style; at the same time, he also held some cross-border parties, where people walked in hanfu and jewelry.
In addition to replicating traditional jewelry and silver artifacts for various film and cdrama crews, Liu Chao is also trying to make some new fashionable products. Not only collecting, he hopes to make more people wear it, but also make some jewelry that everyone can afford to use and buy.
This folk art, which is on the verge of being lost, has collided with commercial culture to create sparks, while also promoting its own upgrade and heritage.
The industry has been up and down for nearly a century, the craftsmen are getting less and less, the older gradually out of view, young people are too hard and tired, also unwilling to learn, some areas, has long been unable to find the filigree inlay craftsmen.
Liu Chao is preparing to open some experience classes, so that more people participate, to spread and promote this craft, "want to let the filigree inlay in the world, in China continue to inherit."