The tradition of Taiwan wood sculpture derived from the same origins as the Fujianese and Cantonese during the dynasties of Ming and Ching. Tainan, Lugang and Dasi had once been in prosperity. Until the periods of Japanese occupation, there was increasing trend in the wood sculpture industry in Tungsiao and Sanyi of the Miaoli County, Fongyuan of Taichung and Wanhua of Taipei. Later, during the 60As, after Taiwan return to the Republic of China, owing to abundant resource of camphor, Sanyi has become internationally famous as The City of Wood Sculpture. Originally regarded as Sanyi Wood Sculpture Arts Gallery, this museum was built by the Construction Department, Taiwan Provincial Government in March 1990 in its aim to promote the arts of wood sculpture.
Video 14.7MB account：The Beginning: Natural Wood DecorationSanyi is situated in a mountainous area with very little fertile land, but the acid clay of the hills is suitable for cultivation of camphor trees and tea trees. Before Taiwan was ceded to Japan after the First Sino-Japanese War, the hills in Sanyi were covered with original camphor forest. During the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, the Japanese cut down camphor trees for medical and industrial purpose. When camphor trees were deforested, workers were hired to grow tea trees. Our early ancestors living in Sanyi were hired by the Japanese to plant tea trees, and they accidentally discovered roots of chopped camphor trees buried deep underground. The roots were partly eaten away by termites, but once excavated and cleaned, they became natural wood of high decorative value. These natural woods are thus considered nature’s works of art.
Of course, not all natural wood can become artwork without any help. Skilled sculptors usually use the original shape as the base to start carving and carve new life into the wood. This is how wood carving in Sanyi becomes so well-known in the world.
The most well-known sculptor in Sanyi is Liou Yi-chun. Born in 1915 into a well-to-do family, Liu was neither an artist nor a traditional craftsman. He became the pioneer of industrial art during the Japanese colonial period by accident. That year, the winter was freezing cold, and Liu was trying to find a utensil for heating purpose. When he looked around, he noticed an old wood mortar sitting in the corner. The wood mortar was a utensil made by digging a hole in a big piece of wood and the tool was used to grind steamed sticky rice. Having been used for a long time, the old wood mortar looked like wrinkles on the face of an old man, with a sense of affability. Liu had an idea to place a copper sheet on the hole and add some charcoal, which turned the old wood mortar into a hibachi.
The news quickly spread across the island and when the Japanese living in Taiwan heard the news, they came to invite Liu to join their company. They collected abandoned wood mortars and transformed these wood mortars into hibachi to export to Japan. This was the first example of export of practical art. As the winter in Japan can be freezing, the artwork with both decorative and practical value was extremely popular in Japan. Liu was able to earn a lot of money, which laid the foundation for the miracle of wood carving in Sanyi after Taiwan was restored.
Taiwan was restored in 1945 and Singye Enterprise (also known as Baiji Store) was established in the following year to sell wood carving. Unfortunately, in 1947, the February 28th Incident occurred, which shocked the whole world. Taiwan was severely damaged during the Japanese colonial period and the Second World War and the slight chance of recovery after restoration of Taiwan was destroyed by February 28th Incident. It was really difficult for wood carving industry in Sanyi to prosper.
Then, in 1950, when the Korean War broke out, the United States sent its troops to station in Taichung, Taiwan, which was only 30 minutes away from Sanyi. American soldiers often came to Sanyi for their vacation and they would buy some wood carving works as gifts for their families in the US. This was the beginning of wood carving in Sanyi.
However, Sanyi still lagged behind Lugang of Changhua County, Dasi of Taoyuan County, Wanhua of Taipei City, Tainan City, Hsinchu City and the neighboring Tongyu and Fongyuan. For instance, there was no wood carving shops for religious statues in Sanyi, but these shops were quite common in all the other areas. Craftsmen in these areas would teach their apprentices how to carve religious statues, statues, flower and birds for temples. Usually, the apprentices would need to work under the master for more than 3 years and 4 months and they can only become craftsmen themselves once their teachers believed that they were qualified, so they could become fine sculptors in carving religious statutes and other sculptures. On the other hand, in Sanyi area, craftsmen, wood carving workers and anyone who were strong and knew how to use hoe or broach could be hired by stores and shops to make wood cutty, ashtray, fruit plate, candy tray, flower bed and chairs. This was quite different from the traditional mentoring.
The Vietnam War occurred in 1960 symbolized a turning point for wood carving industry in Sanyi. At that time, wood carving workers became more skilled in using engraving tools. Some even designed their own specialized tools according to different features of the wood and usage and asked ironworks to make the tools for them. Craftsmen attempted to carve different animals and totems according to their own idea and these works were quite similar to wood carving works created by aborigines around the world as they are original, simple, straight-forward and totemic. American soldiers stationed in Taiwan were fond of these art pieces and frequently visited Sanyi for these wood carvings. Liu, the owner of Baiji Store was a clever businessman and he made a deal with taxi drivers near the military base. Taxi drivers would be rewarded every time they took American soldiers to Baiji Store. Consequently, whenever the American soldiers were off-duty, they would visit Sanyi and purchased wood carvings in Sanyi as gifts to take home for their families and friends in the US. Words of mouth was the best marketing for wood carving industry in Sanyi. Within ten years, Sanyi became a well-known tourist attraction for find great wood carvings as gifts.
Meanwhile, the economy of Japan became to recover after the War and people had high purchasing power. As Taiwan was once a colony of Japan, the Japanese people frequently visited Sanyi to buy wood carvings. With their own business network, the wood carving products were sold to other countries. From 1966 to 1973, wood carving industry in Sanyi reached its peak when 70% of the population were involved in wood carving industry. In fact, one could even find three villages where the entire population was involved in wood carving and the street of wood carving shops was about 1km long. At that time, clerks of these shops were required to speak simple English to receive foreign guests and all studios were established in suburban area.
Change and Growth
From the original wood hibachi made from wood mortar and copper sheet, to simple fruit plate, flower bed and chairs to vivid eagles for American soldiers. Wood carving in Sanyi has evolved. Craftsmen in Sanyi specialized in carving eagles because most American soldiers love to bring wooden eagles home for their family as it symbolize the United States of America. The Japanese love tigers, so craftsmen in Sanyi were also known for their wooden tigers which were usually sold to Japan.
The reputation of Sanyi gradually changed the landscape of wood carving industry in Taiwan because more and more experienced craftsmen were attracted to Sanyi from Hsinchu, Chiayi, Taipei, Tongsiao, Dajia and Fongyuan. Apart from their original techniques, these craftsmen learnt new skills created in Sanyi and created their own style. The world famous artist Ju Ming created the famous Taichi Series by using the cutting technique, a technique he developed after learning how to carve traditional religious statutes and regular statutes and learning new skills in Sanyi.
Wood carving in Sanyi created an artistic miracle from 1950 to 2000. From original, simple, totemic and technologic crafts to delicate, vivid and abstract artwork, Sanyi is connected to the art community in the world. Thanks to the abundant forest resources and the efforts of the wood carvers, Sanyi was able to overcome many difficulties. Of course, one should not forget the assistance and funding from the Council for Cultural Affairs, Executive Yuan, which were the key factor for the establishment of Sanyi Wood Sculpture Museum.
Under the jurisdiction of the Miaoli County Cultural and Tourism Bureau, this wood sculpture museum was opened to public on 9th April 1995. It is the only public museum in Taiwan that is based on wood sculpture.
The exhibition halls of the museum are found on Level 2,3 and 4 of the second building ,and Level 1,Level 2,and Basement of the mainbuilding. The 9 themes of exhibition include The Introduction of Wood Sculpture, the Styles of Each ChineseDynasty, Austronesian Tribe Wood Sculpture, The Origins of Sanyi Wood Sculpture, Wood Sculpture Exhibition Hall, Temples Deities, Architecture & Furniture, Exhibition of Mix Media, and Invitational Exhibition. Each of the themes is carefully divided into different contents, each with concrete presentation of the beauty of wood sculpture for the publics first-hand experience on the application and arts of the wood sculpture.
In order to achieve sustainable operations and to materialize the bringing into full play of the museumAs educational function, in May 2003 the expansion on the storeroom for permanent collections and preservation of wood sculpture was completed. In addition, the spaces for education, exhibition and information on wood sculpture were increased in the aim to bring into full play of the museumAs functions in research and promotion, which in turn would enhance development of the art of wood sculptures in Taiwan.