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Grain collages put food on the table

(China Daily)    11:00, May 12, 2017
Grain collages put food on the table
Women make grain pictures at a workshop in Shoudong village, Hebei province. [Photo by WANG ZIRUI/FOR CHINA DAILY]

Development of the art form has helped draw tourists and bring prosperity to a rural community

For residents of Shoudong in Hebei province, grain is not just a food staple, but also the material used to make beautiful collages and mosaics, which have brought prosperity to the formerly destitute village.

Shoudong used to be a typical poor village, with most men moving to work in cities, leaving their wives, aging parents and children behind.

Now, through the creation of artwork made from cereals and pulses, women are able to earn an income working from home while taking care of their families.

"I'm proud that the income from my artwork is enough to cover our household expenses. I don't need to ask for financial support from my husband," said Shi Xianqiao, one of the artists.

Grain pictures are made by pasting various kinds of grain, such as wheat, rice and beans, on a hard backboard.

The village of 180 households is home to more than 80 such artists, and not all of them are housewives - some men have returned home, attracted by the profits to be made from the emerging craft.

The monthly income for each artist is about 2,000 yuan ($290), which is a result of them utilizing their spare time when they are not farming or looking after their family.

Residents of Shoudong first started making collages from grain in March 2014, when Zhang Haizeng, from the province's Guantao county, came to teach the craft to the villagers.

Zhang, an art graduate, had been an advertising designer, a welder, a security guard and taxi driver before gluing together his first picture using tree bark, cotton and green beans in 2008.

"I imagined that even if I earned 1 yuan from each picture, I would soon be able to buy an apartment and a car," Zhang recalled.

Unfortunately, his pictures decayed rapidly because the glue he used was not compatible with the grain. He tried using more than 100 different types of glue before finding the perfect solution. But then he realized that while he could make the pictures, he had nowhere to sell them.

"In the following two years, I only sold one piece of my work, and that was to a friend," he said, adding that the picture made him 260 yuan.

In September 2009, an art exhibition in the county changed both his mind and his fate. "I had told my family I would give up making these pictures, when a customer unexpectedly ordered eight pieces of my work at the exhibition," he said, smiling at the recollection.

As his business gradually developed, Zhang sought help from the county government, asking for land to establish a production base for his artwork.

Instead of a workshop in Guantao that he had dreamed of, the government offered him three houses in the rural backwater of Shoudong, free of charge.

"It was a perfect opportunity for rural poverty alleviation," said Xie Jijiong, Party chief of Guantao.

"Not only was the land cheaper in the village, having the factory there made recruiting workers easier."

Zhang's site, which covers 8,000 square meters, makes about 5 million yuan each year, and competitors from other provinces have been attracted to the village, forming an industrial cluster.

Tourists are also drawn to Shoudong, which is now full of cafes, inns and souvenir stalls. Visitors, especially children, are helped to make their own pictures as DIY gifts for their friends and family.

With all this activity, the average per capita income of villagers in Shoudong last year reached 15,000 yuan, helping to alleviate poverty, according to Zhang Furen, Party chief of the village.

Seeing the profit potential in collages, Shi Xianqiao has set up her own studio and is planning to expand her business.

"I plan to invest about 500,000 yuan in a brand-new workspace and office, so the current premises can be used as a family inn," she said.

 


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