Sat, Jul 25, 2009 - Page 16 News List

Treasure island

Sales of traditional handicrafts stocked by Lovely Taiwan benefit artisans and communities across the country

By Catherine Shu  /  STAFF REPORTER

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Lovely Taiwan (台灣好•店) mixes together the old and the new and gives birth to something relatively rare in Taipei — a store that focuses exclusively on traditional Taiwanese crafts.

Shopping at the sleekly appointed space near Zhongshan MRT Station (中山捷運站) is like taking a trip around the country in a few minutes.

Profits from the sale of black tea leaves grown in Nantou County help a community there recover from the 921 earthquake, while sales of soap made from locally harvested herbs enable a Taoyuan special education school to purchase supplies. Shoppers can take home a piece of Taiwan — literally, in the form of stone carvings made by artisans in Hualien County.

The store was launched in March by the Lovely Taiwan Foundation (台灣好基金會), which is dedicated to promoting native Taiwanese culture.

“Part of the point of selling these artisans’ work is helping them carry on their traditions,” said store manager Lisa Yeh (葉莉慧).

“I think people who come to the store are sometimes surprised that there are so many different styles of handicrafts made in Taiwan and that the level of workmanship is so high,” she added.

Part of the store’s takings is distributed directly to artisans. Without the involvement of middlemen, the prices are very reasonable. A bag made using Aboriginal needle-working techniques is NT$1,300, while intricately handcrafted tin birds start at NT$750.

In some cases, selling handmade items gives communities a much-needed source of income, which boosts their economic independence.

Some of Lovely Taiwan’s most popular products are hand-carved wooden animals from Sanyi Duck Treasure Shop (三義ㄧㄚ箱寶) in Sanyi Township (三義鄉), Miaoli County. Craftsmen from the woodworking studio’s predecessor, Shuangfeng (雙峰), once produced mallard duck decoys and other items for export, but were eventually overwhelmed by competition from factories in China and Southeast Asia. In 2002, the studio was reborn as a tourist attraction, teaching woodcarving classes and making colorful figures based on Taiwanese animals, like the Formosan black bear and the fairy pitta, a small endangered bird.

Other best sellers include home furnishings and bags crafted by members of Aboriginal tribes in Jinfeng Township (金峰鄉), Taitung County. The artisans are close relatives of students at the town’s Xinxing Primary School (新興國小). The school’s principal, Cheng Han-wen (鄭漢文), noticed that parents were often unable to participate in their children’s education because they were too busy searching for jobs, which are scarce in the area. Cheng launched a program that gave parents the skills and material resources to create the items now sold in Lovely Taiwan. The furniture is carved from driftwood and the bags are embroidered with traditional motifs like two-headed snakes.

“We’ve worked with this program for two years now and having a stable source of income has really made a difference for these families,” said Yeh.

While some of the items sold in Lovely Taiwan help their makers achieve economic independence, other artisans see preserving their community’s traditions as the main goal.

Yuma•Taru, a member of the Taiya tribe (泰雅族), left her office job in Taipei 20 years ago to return to Miaoli County and learn dyeing and weaving techniques from tribal elders.

“Lovely Taiwan is important because it promotes traditional culture and crafts as something that is desirable,” said Yuma, whose work is on exhibit in the store’s gallery until Aug. 26. “Many Taiwanese people don’t think Taiwanese culture is modern or fashionable enough. They’d rather buy something from Louis Vuitton.”

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