Gourd Engraving: Li Yu Cheng 葫芦: 李玉成
Artist At Work

Li Yu Cheng’s gourd engraving workshop is located in Li She Village in Yan Si Town. The workshop occupies one room of Li Yu’s two-room one story brick house. The house is part of a larger compound that includes a courtyard and several outbuildings. In one of these, gourds are hung from the ceiling to dry. This building is also used for general storage and as a garage for Li Yu’s bicycle.

Li Yu’s workshop is dominated by his worktable and a three-shelf unit on which he displays engraved and shaped gourds. On the wall near this shelf is a portrait of Mao Zedong as a young man. Paper cuts by Li Yu’s daughters hang on the walls.

Li Yu’s worktable faces a window, and he works using natural and electric light. On his table are two large intricately engraved large hourglass-shaped gourds. Li Yu covers his worktable with both a printed tablecloth and a work mat. Arrayed on the work mat is a shallow container holding engraving tools of various sizes, a woodburning tool, pencils and pens, and the brown ink used to darken the engravings. Li Yu makes this dark brown color himself from the ashes of burned wheat and cooking oil.

The first step in Li Yu’s engraving process is to draw images on a gourd with a pencil. Li Yu originally engraved freehand, but now (because of deteriorating eyesight) he draws his design first. Once the images are drawn, he engraves the gourd using knives and a woodburning tool. The temperature of the burning tool can be adjusted to vary the depth of the engraving. After the gourd is engraved, Li Yu applies dark brown ink to the gourd’s surface and then wipes it clean with a cloth. Ink remains in those parts of the gourd that have been engraved, and the greater the depth of the engraving, the darker the color is. One of the final steps in Li Yu’s process is to cut away the top of the gourd and remove the seeds if it is to be used as cricket cage.

The shelves in Li Yu’s workshop contain many examples of his craft. There are gourds of many sizes that have been engraved and adapted for use as cricket cages, rattles, musical instruments, decorative objects, and teapots. Gourds are displayed on small wooden stands and on pieces of decorative plates and saucers. Also on display are gourds that have been decorated by growing the gourds within molds, so that patterns remain when these molds are removed.