Bow & Arrow: Yang Fu Xi 杨福喜
Artist At Work

Yang first gathers together several different items: water buffalo horns, cotton thread, paint, pig skin, fish skin from Thailand, and a special kind of tree bark from northern China. The water buffalo horns are then polished, a process that takes a long time and is very difficult. It takes two horns to make a bow, so they also have to be sorted into matching pairs that will yield a balanced bow that is the right size for the person it is made for. Meanwhile, the pig skin is processed into glue, which takes a month of drying followed by a day of steaming and sieving under pressure. Yang assigns the glue-making to his newest apprentices.

For a traditional bow, two horns are glued together at their ends to give the basic shape of the bow. Tree bark is then glued to the front of the bow to protect it from moisture, and the handgrip is wrapped with fish skin to provide a firm hold. The bow is then painted with characters representing longevity and traditional designs such as dragons and birds using water-based paint, and once it is dry it is ready to be strung.

Bowstrings are made from many strands of plain cotton thread that are woven together until they create a cord about a half centimeter thick that’s so stiff it feels like there’s iron at its core. Once this cord is attached to the bow, it’s ready to use.

Of course, with a bow you need arrows and a quiver to hold them, and Yang also makes these using traditional methods. The arrows are made of a special kind of wood that is very light and has a straight grain. The arrowheads are made of iron, and the arrows are finished with goose feathers. The quivers are made of ox leather.