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    Etched in memory

    SHIJIAZHUANG (XINHUA) – For craftsman Wu Haidong, each of his leather carving works is not only a piece of art but also a unique carrier of memories.

    Wu, 34, has been focussed on creating tailor-made leather objects carved with images of deceased pets.

    He is an inheritor of the intangible cultural heritage of Lianchi District, Baoding city, north China’s Hebei Province.

    With a piece of leather, a carving knife, and a paintbrush, Wu is like a magician, bringing to life the remembered animals with exquisite carving skills. Upon the requests of the pet owners, Wu would make the handicrafts into products such as bags, tags, and keychains.

    “By touching the carvings, people would feel as if they are caressing their pets. It is kind of a consolation for them,” he said. “Leather carving is not a very popular art, many people are not familiar with it,” Wu said, so he used social media apps such as Douyin and Kuaishou to introduce his works and attract consumers.

    Traditionally, patterns of totem and natural sceneries are the favoured subjects of leather carving, representing riches and auspiciousness.

    It was a coincidence that Wu got the idea of carving pets.

    A leather carving work made by Wu Haidong
    Wu Haidong works on a piece of leather at a workshop in Baoding City. PHOTOS: XINHUA

    “Once one of my subscribers asked me to make a purse carved with the feature of his dead pet dog,” he said, with the video of him making that purse attracted over 300,000 thumbs-ups online.

    Since then, he started to focus on carving pets for the grieving owners.

    “The combination of traditional craftsmanship and these special subjects is not only beautiful but also healing, giving the pet owners much comfort and warmth,” he said.

    One of his customers, surnamed Deng, said the leather tag Wu made for her makes her feel as if her beloved golden retriever is still alive.

    The pet dog, nicknamed Jinjin, had been a member of Deng’s family for more than 13 years before it became old and was diagnosed with an incurable disease. The death of Jinjin was heartbreaking for Deng. When she saw videos of leather carving shared by Wu online, she contacted him immediately.

    Wu, also a pet owner himself, suggested Deng give him some hair and ashes of the dog, which he mixed into the leather tag. “She burst into tears when touching the tag for the first time, saying that she felt as if the pet was still by her side,” Wu said.

    Currently, Wu has some 1.85 million followers on the Douyin platform. He has finished some 1,000 pieces of pet carvings since 2018.

    Wu started to learn drawing at an early age. During his college years as a student majoring in graphic design, he came across some leather carving works online and became infatuated with the art.

    Making up his mind to dive into this art, he spent two years learning from a master in Baoding.

    Wu said there are mainly two steps for making leather carving products – carving and colouring. Craftsmen usually choose natural leather with fine and tough texture to carve the patterns, which will be colored with special dyes that can infiltrate into the leather.

    “It takes a long time to colour since we have to colour the leather layer by layer so that the works will look three-dimensional and vivid,” he said.

    “My love and passion have been encouraging me to carry on with this job, and it has been rewarding for me,” he said.

    Looking into the future, Wu said he is willing to heal the hearts of more people with his artworks.

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