Qingtian County in the middle of Zhejiang Province is home to the precious stones of the same name which feature glaze colors similar to jade and are masterfully shaped by artists.
Qingtian-style sculptures are appreciated for their colorful hues, jade-like texture and depictions of landscapes, pastoral scenes, legends and flowers.
Natural colors and textures endow Qingtian stones with the potential to become exquisite works of art, no matter what they look like originally, and the crafts involved are regarded as the epitome of Zhejiang Province's folk art.
Xu Yongli, 56, has engaged in stone carving for more than 40 years and received many national prizes and awards. As an inheritor of the intangible cultural heritage of Qingtian stone sculpture, she is the only craftswoman dubbed "senior craft master" in Zhejiang Province.
Her best examples can now be appreciated at an ongoing exhibition at the Zhejiang Museum Wulin Pavilion. Visitors can get a well-rounded view of her artistic skills.
For many centuries, Qingtian craftspeople have long taken advantage of the various forms and colors of the local stones to create exquisite pieces which integrate natural beauty with human ingenuity.
Xu is no exception. The work "Red Leaves over the Hill" can typify her integration of artistic knowledge and professional technique. The natural red part of the stone is engraved into red maple trees, while the gray section is turned into hill slopes.
As the stones have a myriad of textures and colors, Xu has to design according to original hues and forms to augment the stone's advantages. For example, red is suitable for flowers while white fits figures. Mixed colors sometimes require her to change the original design.
Also, a stone is made up of different minerals. The rough texture cannot be polished into a glossy finish, but the fine part could be carved with smooth lines and surfaces.
The work "Growing with a Baby" proves the point. The upper fine part is sculptured into a mother and an infant, while the lower rough part is designed as a nest.
After years of practice and changing aesthetics, Xu has found the simplest work always has the best charm. In "Shadows of Riverbanks," she only carved some cloudy patterns on the surface, but kept the stone's natural veins and textures because they resemble the trees and water waves.