In an age in which education and certificates are held in high esteem, Amis Aborginal sculptor Wang Hsin-yi (王信一), who only finished high school last year, signed a contract with the National Taitung Junior College to become a woodwork instructor at the school.
Now 56 years old, Wang said he became interested in wood sculpting when he was 17, adding that he felt a close affinity with wood, as his father, who was a logger by profession, often brought home pieces of lumber for firewood or other purposes.
Wang said that when he was studying in Taipei he would often pass by a shop that sold Buddhist sculptures.
“It was the scent of wood — the same as the pieces of lumber at home — that first drew my attention,” Wang said, adding that he had a feeling of inferiority because he was an Aborigine and did not dare step into the shop to learn the trade.
However, after he watched the wood sculptors practice their craft for a while, he memorized the angles and methods of setting chisel to wood.
“When I returned home I started to practice on pieces of wood my dad had left lying around at home,” Wang said, adding that he started off by using a flat-tip screwdriver because he did not have the right tools.
Wang said he started honing his skills by making a Buddhist sculpture, but that he was scolded severely by his mother, a devout Christian, for his efforts.
Wang said that he continued learning the finer aspects of wood sculpting through diligent practice, adding that he also turned from sculpting Buddhist figures to Aboriginal figures.
Despite holding many different jobs, the only constant in his life was his love for wood sculpting, he said.
Wang’s works reflected his belief in nature and his adoration of it, and he quickly became known as a speedy chiseler.
Wang holds some weight within the nation’s wood-sculpting community after winning several awards.
Meanwhile, Wang has already made himself at home at the school by choosing a workshop in which he will teach the students.
The workshop was once a pig shed, but it has now been renovated and decorated using Wang’s own works.
Wang said he hopes to teach his students that there is nothing in life that does not have a use, even things that might at first seem useless — such as the pig shed.
Wang also said that many of his finest works had been made from rotting wood, after removing the rotten fiber and excess material.
The most important thing is to maintain the spirit that you want to do better in the world, Wang said, adding that it was why he takes teaching very seriously and holds his students to a strict standard of learning.
Wang said that he is not afraid of failing a student if they missed too many classes, adding that students needed to have a skill or expertise no matter if they want to continue their education or seek a job, because only then will they be competing with each other on a level playing field.