Gourds have been widely cultivated in China as early as the Zhou Dynasty (1046BC-256BC). Gourd pyrography as a folk artform can be traced back to the Jiaqing period (1796-1820) of Emperor Renzong in the Qing Dynasty (1616-1912). Mengshan Gourd Pyrography, is very popular in Wenshui Town of Pingyi County in Linyi City, Shandong Province. One representative of this artform there is Mr. Chen Qinggui, whose gourd pyrography compositions are well-known due to the vivid and skillful techniques. His gourd paintings describe landscapes, human figures, or zodiac signs. Exquisite and unique, his works show the high niveau of this traditional Chinese folk handicraft.
In the Qing Dynasty, Chen Guangzhi, the 11th generation of the Chen family who is famous for the artform in Pingyi, was closely connected to Confucius: He was the lecturer of the sixty-ninth generation grandson of Confucius. Emperor Jiaqing personally appointed Chen Guangzhi to be in charge of the internal affairs of the Confucius family clan.
By the time of Chen Guiqing, the 12th generation of the Chen family, the art of gourds was even more important in the family business as Chen Guiqing was not interested in being an official but dedicating all his time at gourds landscape painting techniques. The 14th generation Chen Baolou was very well-known with his freehand brushwork of human characters, and with the twelve zodiac signs. Dynamic and lifelike, his works are beloved and handed down from generation to generation. Most of them, however, are lost along the time. Later, the 15th generation Chen Hanchen and the 16th generation Chen Zongcheng passed the skills to the present 17th generation, and down to the contemporary successor Chen Qinggui, who is a “member of the China Arts and Crafts Association” and a “member of the Chinese Folk Literature and Artists Association”.
In Chinese, gourd is welcome also due to its same pronunciation as “Fu Lu”, meaning luck and wealth. Gourd is valuable as food, medicine and ornamental, too. Gourd, therefore, is an auspicious symbol. Painting gourds with patterns implying fortune, longevity and landscapes are popular. Motifs like mandarin ducks playing in the water are also very much liked.
In 2007, Mr. Chen Qinggui was awarded the title of “Shandong Arts and Crafts Master” by the Shandong Provincial Government for his profound artistic conception, rigorous composition, exquisite skills, and inheriting innovation. 17 works by him have won national, provincial and ministerial awards, and more than 100 works of his have been collected by collectors from the United States, France, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and other countries.
In June 2006, at the first Shandong International Cultural Industry Expo, UNESCO official Beatrice Kaldun spoke highly of Mr. Chen’s works and wrote an inscription of encouragement. His representative work “Three Stars Shining Around” was selected for the China Arts and Crafts Exhibition. It won the award in the influential national “Century Classic Works”. Meanwhile, Chen Qinggui built a gourd pyrography studio and exhibition hall in his hometown Yongxi Village. During the winter and summer vacations, students are invited to the studio to learn gourd pyrography and to enjoy the treasures of Chinese folk art.