For elevating bamboo weaving from functionality to fine art, Huang Tu-shan was awarded the 2008 National Crafts Achievement Award. Nevertheless, the veritable master weaver kindly attributes the beauty of his craftsmanship to the natural tenacity of the bamboo plant itself, saying that the timber retains life in a different form, and the weaver can only take half the credit for the finished product.
Huang was born and raised in the Nantou township of Zhushan (南投竹山), an area simply known as "Bamboo Mountain.” The mountain received its name from the 126 million square meters of bamboo planted in the region's water-rich soil while Taiwan was under Japanese rule in the early 1900s. Bamboo-derived items supplemented much of people's everyday life in that era - from fishing, cooking, and clothing to vessels, shelter, and music, Makino and Thorny bamboos were harvested, chipped, sliced, and preserved.
Like most of his townsmen, Huang was sent to learn the art of bamboo weaving from a Japanese vocational school at a young age. He immediately discovered a natural affinity for the craft, explaining that "bamboo weaving requires immense patience. It is an art that refines one's temperament.” He was running Taiwan's first-ever bamboo processing factory by 1945, just in time to handle bulk orders for bamboo suitcases needed by the retreating Japanese army after Taiwan's retrocession.
Huang's works are characterized by a deft exchange of thin and thick bamboo plaits and a wholesome form that belies the hardness of wood. He also reveres simplicity, preferring to preserve the natural hues of the bamboo stripes instead of using dye. "The simpler the design, the less room you have for flaws,” he pointed out.From bamboo he has fashioned flower vases, fruit platters, ornamental lanterns and handbags, all of which are now considered collector's items, thus setting a valuable precedent for more bamboo art to come.
"In the past, our forefathers, our ancestors, knew how important bamboo was to our way of life.”