The Skillful Craftsmen in Lingnan · The Guardians of Ancient Buildings | Encaustic Tile
In the 1920s and the 1930s, encaustic tiles were brought into Guangzhou and then in a fashion quickly because of their rich patterns, diverse colors, wear resistance, moisture resistance and other characteristics. The prevalence of encaustic tiles has changed the floor aesthetics in Chinese architecture and allowed the Chinese to re-examine the floor under our feet. Besides, its water-proof and moisture-proof performance also adapts to the hot and humid climate in Lingnan very well.
Nowadays, although encaustic tiles have long been replaced by the ceramic tiles produced in a mechanized manner and a large volume, the encaustic tiles with rich patterns are still telling that period of brilliantly shining history in many historic buildings.
Here is No. 52 residential buidling at Jixiang Fang of Yongqing Fang in Guangzhou. Open the brown-red wooden door and look down to the floor beneath their feet, and visitors can find that it is paved with white and green mirrored tiles in 20×20 cm. The geometric figure in large area matches the interior decoration of whole room, making the entire scene quite beautiful.
However, this historic building in Guangzhou has to be renovated now for its re-opening to the public. Each element shall be restored to its original state as much as possible, including the small piece of encaustic tile under visitors’ feet. Wu Wenjin, a tiler with nearly 40 years of professional experience, has undertaken the task to restore those encaustic tiles.
Mr. Wu is 57 years old and a native of Kaiping in Jiangmen, whose uncles and brothers all engage in building trades. In 1982, Mr. Wu started his apprenticeship with his uncle, a tiler. Two years later, he began undertaking tasks alone. When it comes to various jobs on the construction site, Mr. Wu is best at tiling. He has not only tiled the floor in new buildings but also restored the old buildings like Kaiping Watchtowers in a professional manner. All of his work is quick, smooth and intact.
Mr. Wu recalled the first time as he stepped in the room, “Some of the encaustic tiles on the floor were broken while others were worn out. Almost half of those tiles were damaged.” Fortunately, the house owner found some old tiles in the same size and style from other old buildings, and Mr. Wu used those tiles to re-pave the floor according to the style and pattern of the rest of those intact tiles.
Compared with other tasks in building trades, most of the tiling tasks are in door so that tilers can be away from the sun and wind. However, dirt and tiredness are inevitable. Tilers always have mud on their hands and wear anti-dust respirators to avoid the dusts from tile cutting.
Flatness are of particular importance in tiling according to Mr. Wu. For each tile he paved, he struck it with a rubber hammer first in the middle and then around, and finally examined its flatness. Although artisans now can have a spirit level help them complete this process, Mr. Wu will double check the flatness based on his experience and hand feel, so as to control the precise flatness among tiles.
When walking into each historic building in Lingnan and stepping on each exquisite encaustic tile, visitors seem to have strayed into a romantic “sea of flowers”.
Now, the ancient building restoration is booming again. However, artisans are in big trouble each time when there is a need for encaustic tile renovation because there is almost no encaustic tile manufacturer on the market. Therefore, when many ancient buildings are renovated, most of the artisans will manage to acquire the encaustic tiles remained from demolished old buildings at present. As a result, each time when paving encaustic tiles in an old house, Mr. Wu will be particularly careful because those tiles “cannot be purchased anymore once damaged.”
Ouyang Lun, an expert on ancient Lingnan buildings, are calling on the inheritance and research on the manufacture techniques of encaustic tiles, the characteristic and artistic decorative materials for modern ancient buildings in Lingnan, so as to restore their beautiful patterns.
Source: Guangzhou Daily
Report planning: Qin Hui and Xiao Guilai
Author:He Zhuanying,He Ruiqi and Mo Weinong