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Walnut art maker: Lu Xiaorong

02-09-2011 09:10 BJT

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Not everyone can see treasure in the trivial. It takes even more of an eye to develop the trivial into art. Lu Xiaorong has that eye. The 45-year-old transforms the humble walnut into fine art. And today we find out how this Beijing native has carved a culture out of the knobby nut.

Every morning, Lu Xiaorong and his friends gather in the park around Beijing's Temple of Heaven. They don't come to jog or practice taiqi like the other early-risers... their form of exercise is less obvious to the unknowing eye - in the palm of their hands, they hold a pair of walnuts... moving the walnuts round and round massages the hand and also polishes the shell.

The culture surrounding walnuts has a long history in China. Using walnuts to gently exercise the hands dates back to the Han Dynasty, around two thousand years ago. The practice, known as "walnut therapy" reached its heyday towards the latter end of the Ming Dynasty, five hundred years ago.

Nicknamed "Walnut Lu", Lu Xiaorong is famous across
Beijing as a "walnut therapist".

Wild walnuts are better for walnut therapy because they're harder than the cultivated, edible types. If a pair are used for a long time, their shells will became darker and more transparent. The ancient belief is that this is because the flesh and blood of the user has been rubbed into the shell. As such, rubbed walnuts have different characteristics depending on the individual who used them.

Well-used wild walnuts have become collector's items in Beijing. Their values differ dramatically depending on their shape, color, and age.

Nicknamed "Walnut Lu", Lu Xiaorong is famous across Beijing as a "walnut therapist". But he's more than just that. Over the past four years, he's also been making a name for himself as a "walnut artist".

Lu Xiaorong, Walnut Artist, said, "I was rubbing some walnuts that weren't completely dry yet, which meant they cracked easily. I couldn't use them any more after they'd cracked, but I couldn't bear to throw them away either. Then, I got to thinking that since the outside of the walnut looks so amazing, maybe the inside is the same. So I opened up some of my cracked walnuts... they weren't any use to me any more anyway. Opening them up, I found that the insides were just as lovely as the outsides."

Each autumn, Lu Xiaorong goes on a nationwide search for walnuts. He often brings home a whole truckload. There, Lu puts the walnuts through a complex process. They are carefully sawn open, the kernels are removed, and the shells are soaked in water. The pieces are then put together and polished. The result is art - each piece featuring sophisticated and delicate patterns.

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