I, for one, had never heard of Chinese “Fruit Pit Carvings,” let alone that this is an ancient Chinese art form which, like too many wondrous things, is in peril of fading from the scene. For the moment, thanks to Mr. Zhou Jianming, it lives. And almost unbelievably beautifully so.
Thanks to Peninsula School District Chinese language and cultural teacher Heidi A. Steele, on Oct. 9 and 10, Mr. Zhou came to the district to share his art form with our middle and high school students in lecture/hands-on workshops.
Fruit pit carving involves carving the pits of fruits and nuts, most commonly olive and peach pits, into tiny exquisitely detailed works of art. The themes of the carvings typically stem from Chinese poetry, historical events, myths and legends.
Steele explained that, “Mr. Zhou began studying this 600-year-old art when he graduated from high school. Now, as the most renowned fruit pit artist in China, he is leading efforts to preserve and further develop his beloved art.”
In eight PSD classroom visits over two days, Zhou shared the history of fruit pit carving from the Imperial Palace in the Tang Dynasty to the workshop in his hometown of Suzhou where he began his apprenticeship 42 years ago.
Mr. Zhou then invited students to look at a display of his carvings, using magnifying glasses to see the almost unimaginably small details. Finally, students tried their hand at carving using actual carving tools but baby carrots instead of fruit pits.
To GHHS student Ben Harper, “It was harder than I thought, but overall a fun cultural experience.”
Schoolmate Daniel Ahn “was surprised at how difficult the art actually was. The intricate and fine details were beautiful and astounding. Overall, I really enjoyed watching and admiring the arts.”
“Carving the carrot was like trying to draw on a chalkboard with a pencil,” Jackson Plymale said.
I’ll have to try that!
I was fascinated with the artist’s demonstrations of the use of his large assortment of exotic wood chisels. They were like none I’d ever seen before; more like pencils with very sharp steel extensions. Even though I watched Mr. Zhou demonstrating his artistry, I could never understand how he could fashion the intricate designs with moving parts clearly seen as what they represented.
“Amazing” is a gross understatement.
Student Emma Toy agreed: “It was amazing how detailed and smooth he carved, he made it look a lot easier than it actually was.”
We owe our thanks for this opportunity to Tower Bridge International (TBI), Steele said. In addition to bringing middle and high school exchange students from China to our district for short-term stays with host families in the area, TBI also runs an artist residency program that brings renowned artists and craftspeople from China to the U.S. to immerse themselves in the arts in the U.S. while sharing their art forms with American students.
Declared student Kayla Robertson, “It was harder than it looked! The craft itself was super unique and one of a kind.”
Said Joe Babin, “I have never seen such immense detail in something as small as a fruit pit. It is a unique and interesting craft.”
Schoolmate Anya Olekszyk agreed, “I have never seen so much detail in such a tiny fruit pit. It was amazing to see it open and close. I loved it.”
Ryan Wimberley “enjoyed every part of the presentation. I was very humbled to be in the presence of a high authority on such a fine art. My respect for him only grew when I tried it myself — I barely managed to draw a square. I have difficulty expressing the skill required to even be proficient in the art, let alone to master it as so few have.”
My thanks to everyone for letting me play in this inspiring sandbox!
Hugh McMillan is a longtime contributing writer for the Gateway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.