The wood sculpture in Guandu refers to the wood sculpture attached above the traditional major carpentry rather than statues of a deity. Before exploring wood sculpture, we should know in advance the characteristics of traditional major carpentry. Traditional architecture is mainly structured by wood. Generally, it is called carpentry, which can be divided into “major carpentry” and “minor carpentry.”
Major carpentry refers to the structure of the architecture itself, including the structural mechanics and part construction. Therefore, it is similar to the jobs of an architect and a civil engineer. However, a carpenter of major carpentry requires cultivation of basic wood sculpture skills so that they can make important components such as dou, gong, tong, beams, girders, rafters, and bundles. Yet in order to cope with the mechanics of architectural structure, distribution of different structures, and wood carving, the carpenters have to follow the principles in the process so as to avoid “loss of materials” due to excessive carving and from breaking the carrying capacity of the wooden structure. Generally speaking, the components of major carpentry, including dou, gong, tong, beams, girders, rafters, and bundles, are the main structure carrying the weight of the architecture. Therefore, the main structure is usually decorated with paint rather than carved out with extra materials and worn out the support. If they really want to add more decoration, they are only allowed to decorate with some simple shallow relief or low relief.
In comparison with major carpentry, minor carpentry covers relatively expansive items, including doors, window lattice, components of decoration, and wooden furniture. The components of decoration are the wood sculpture we are discussing here, also known as “minor wood carving” by traditional carpenters. Therefore, wood sculptors are also called “masters of wood carving.”
The components of wood sculpture such as the “shu wei” at the end of the girder; “yuan guang” beneath the short girders between the external columns; “shi zuo,” components to stabilize the large girder and gua pillars; “hua lang (flower baskets)” or “diao tong (hanging barrels),” short pillars hanging underneath the girder to fix the beams and girders; the “shu cai” attached to the short pillars for decoration; “que ti” (supporting wood) under the crossing between the main girder and the column, are auxiliary components of decoration underneath the main structure of major carpentry. Basically, they do not carry much in terms of the structural mechanics. Besides helping fix the main structure, in fact, most of the components serve as ornaments for traditional architecture through the exquisite carving techniques. The “yuan guang,” “que ti,” “shu wei,” “shu cai,” “shi zuo,” “hua lang,” and “diao tong” are best demonstrations of the essence of the wood sculptors’ command in the art of carpentry.