From a pentagram and a cherry blossom to the Chinese character xi (囍) — symbolizing “double happiness” for newlyweds — an 88-year-old paper-cutting master from New Taipei City (新北市) only requires a few seconds to convert patterns formed in his mind into beautiful, delicate works of art.
Walking into the studio-cum-residence of Lee Huan-chang (李煥章) in Sanchong District (三重), one can hardly miss the tens of thousands of paper-cutting artworks stacked from the floor all the way to the ceiling, allowing only enough room for one person to pass through the hallway.
The overcrowded house is the “artistic playground” of Lee, the recipient of a multitude of accolades, including being honored as a traditional art preserver by the city government last year
Born in Shandong, China, Lee moved to Taiwan with former president Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) troops in 1949 after they were defeated by the Chinese Communist Party during the Chinese Civil War.
After settling down in the country, Lee served in the military until he gained admission to Taihoku Normal School — the precursor of National Taipei University of Education. After graduation, he took up a teaching post at Taipei’s Zhong Zheng Elementary School.
Lee later ventured into the field of folk art, determined to bring new life to the crafts he had learned in his hometown in China.
After years of endeavor to promote paper-cutting, Lee was awarded the Ministry of Education’s Education Culture Medal in 1989, as well as the National Heritage Award in the traditional crafts category for paper-cutting in 1991.
In honor of the “national treasure,” the Taipei Children’s Recreation Center also named an exhibition hall dedicated to paper-cutting handicrafts after Lee, aiming to further promote and pass on the time-honored folk culture to the younger generation.
“Paper-cutting is an art not restricted by time and space. All it takes is a pair of scissors and a piece of paper to bring artistic creations to life,” Lee said.
For instance, to express his gratitude to people who yield their seats to him on public transport, Lee said he gives them paper-cutting works that he creates on the spot.
“Whenever my neighbors or friends get married, I cut the character xi from [red] paper as my blessing to the new couple,” Lee said, adding such wedding gifts have been well-received.
In a move to recognize Lee’s long-time dedication to traditional art, New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) on Thursday visited the 88-year-old, gifting him a pottery tea set and encouraging him to continue dazzling the nation with more fine works of art.
The city’s Cultural Affairs Department is also scheduled to release an oral history video album and a book on traditional crafts by Lee by the end of this year and next year respectively, department director Lin Chien-chi (林倩綺) said.
“We hope to help Lee’s promotion and teaching of the art of paper-cutting reach more people through the video album and the book,” Lin said.