Ivory Carving in China: Cultural Heritage
Ivory carving in China is an intangible cultural heritage. This heritage in fact started in the Neolithic Age when articles were made of bones, teeth and horns from animals. Ivory was an important component of the Neolithic craft cultures that items were made for ritual and religious purposes. Ivory carving experienced significant progress in the Shang dynasty (1600-1046 BC). In the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368), ivory was mainly used to decorate the palace and court and the art of ivory carving went downhill because of the lack of material for private use. Thereafter, ivory carving boomed again in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. Also in the Qing Dynasty, there was a trend on carving small articles that are treasures for appreciation and ornamentation.
Ivory is the most popular material used in ivory carving, but this carving technique can also apply to animal bones and horns, stones and jade. Thus the term “ivory carving” can be referred to the carving techniques and skills. Mammoth (been extinct for millions years) ivory has also been used before the ban of elephant ivory. Carvings of this fossil ivory has occurred hundred years ago and continue to be legal in most places. Another replacement for elephant ivory is the tagua nut (or called vegetable ivory).
The common techniques in ivory carving are single-line intaglio carving, round carving, relief carving, micro-carving and three more unique skills include fretwork, cleaving-plaiting and inlaying-dyeing. The intricate hollowed out ivory balls are the most typical fret work item. Some have dozens layers, cased one on top of another, and each layer is able to revolve.
Ivory carved items are treasured for not only the value of the ivory but also their delicate art and craftsmanship. Thus these artistic carved items are worth collecting. In addition, some carved objects (from mammoth tooth) have functions of Feng Shui cures:
Dragon: symbol of vigilance and incredible strength; has the power of scaring away wandering evil spirits and brings extremely good fortune
Buddha with children: enhances both descendant luck and happiness
Child with fish: fish means abundance; enhances wealth and happiness