Sun, Dec 28, 2003 - Page 19 News List

A new look at farmers' leathery faces

Yeh Fa-yuan uses bull leather to create sculptures that depict rural Taiwanese life in the 1960s

By Vico Lee  /  STAFF REPORTER

Yeh Fa-yuan makes sculptures of farmers from leather.

PHOTO COURTESY OF TAIWAN CRAFT DESIGN CENTER

A winner of the Ethnic Crafts Award, the country's highest honor in crafts, Yeh fa-yuan (葉發原) has devoted the past six years to creating highly realistic leather sculptures of human figures which are currently on show in "Exhibition of Leather Sculpture Art by Yeh Fa-yuan" at the National Taiwan Craft Research Institute's Taipei Exhibit Center.

Titled "Harvest Series," the 30 works form a picture of 1960s rural Taiwanese villages. Farmers are depicted carrying pumpkins with strained, yet contented expressions. Others work at the rice grinder, or weigh the corn. All have crow's feet and weathered lips on their heavily tanned faces. Through subtle expressions, their faces show a serenity of diligent farmers and idyllic agricultural life.

These are figures from Yeh's childhood memories in Taoyuan County. "Agriculture used to be an important part in Taiwanese people's lives, but agriculture has declined now. I hope that through these sculptures, I can express the joy of harvest in rural families so that young people will appreciate the happiness of old-time farmers," Yeh said.

To present the rural life as realistically as possible, Yeh gathered many books, documents and photo albums of 1960s Taiwan and paid meticulous attention to farming tools. When he completed a work, he had his 83-year-old mother examine it to make sure that every detail of the scene is historically correct. He even took photos of farmers to study the wrinkles on their faces and carve the holes of fishing nets one by one to create vivid images.

In his previous series of crabs and ants, Yeh also tried to make extremely realistic works by raising crabs and ants in his house to study their anatomy closely. Yeh studies human anatomy by having his wife take hundreds of photos of him acting out the scenes he was going to sculpt.

Exhibition notes:

"Exhibition of Leather Sculpture Art by Yeh Fa-yuan" runs through Jan. 20 at Taiwan Craft Design Center in Taipei, 9F, 20 Nanhai Rd, Taipei (台北市南海路209F).


It's also surprising that aside from the few machine parts of the farming tools, which are made of metal, these sculptures are made entirely of bull leather, including tasseled straw shawls and corn ears. "The most difficult part of leather sculpting is knowing the characteristics of leather, once you choose the right kind of leather, you can have it form the right structures at your will," Yeh said, adding that he insisted on working with such a challenging and costly material because of its unique warm colors that seem to exude a life of their own.

Yeh started creating leather sculptures in the 1980s, when leather works in Taiwan were mostly two-dimensional pieces to hang on the wall. He found that leather, highly malleable and easy to dye, was actually an ideal material for realistic sculpture.

To make the leather even more lifelike and durable, he spent more than one month on each piece processing the leather to be water-proof and mildew-proof.

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