Ink brush maker keeps tradition alive
SIFTING through bags of goat hairs to select quality ones for making Chinese ink brushes can be tough and boring, but this is routine work for Zhang Wennian, 50, who is an inheritor of the traditional handicraft.
“The wool must be from the neck and underarms of white goats weighing under 25kg. Only a small amount of goat hairs are eligible enough for ink brushes — not too thick, not too soft,” said Zhang.
Many famous contemporary Chinese calligraphers and painters, including Liu Haisu, Wu Zuoren and Ouyang Zhongshi, were fans of the brushes made by Zhang’s ink brush workshop, which is based in the city of Xuancheng, eastern China’s Anhui Province.
Zhang said when his father managed the workshop, it was capable of producing more than 200 varieties of brushes with an annual output of hundreds of thousands in its heyday.
Traditional calligraphy with ink brushes has become exclusive to artists these days, and the younger generations are becoming more accustomed to e-reading and “paperless” writing, said Zhang.
His workshop now produces 100,000 ink brushes a year. And more than half of its annual revenue comes from small amounts of high-end products that are sold to artists, while school students are the main force of beginners learning calligraphy with cheap ink brushes, he said.
“With a smaller market, we are forced to pursue quality, and it is important to carry on traditional handicraft and culture,” Zhang said.