88-year-old carves wood painting into history

Chen Yiwen (陳義文), who just celebrated his 88th birthday, is the lone surviving artist possessing a high artistic attainment in wood engraving painting in Hubei province.
Chen is a national-level inheritor of Laohekou wood engraving New Year painting (老河口木版年畫雕刻), which originated in the middle of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and thrived during the Qianlong period of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
The process of wood engraving painting involves selecting the material, sketching on paper, engraving on the woodblock, printing, coloring and drying. Themes of the painting include figures from ancient history or legends, door gods and others.
With bright colors and meticulous lines, Chen’s work maintains the authentic local features and folk flavors. One of his wood engraving paintings was chosen for a Hubei middle school art textbook, and his works have also been exhibited around the country, as well as in Russia and Italy.
Chen started learning his craft when he was 14 and began creating his own work at 16. The technique of wood engraving painting has been passed down in the family, from Chen’s grandfather to his father, and now passed on to Chen’s grandson.
At the height of the painting’s popularity, with people keeping the tradition of pasting New Year paintings in their houses, Chen’s family’s workshop was always busy. But now, few people still use the handmade wood engraving New Year paintings, according to Chen, and the technique is gradually disappearing.
To keep the technique alive, Chen has opened training classes and each year he trains around 30 students.
The Laohekou wood engraving New Year painting was listed in the national-level intangible cultural heritage list in 2011.

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