Master of wood joints taps knowledge 7,000 years old
Mortise-and-tenon blocks add charm to an old-style Chinese structure designed by Liu Wenhui. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]
Liu Wenhui spent more than eight years developing unique toy blocks using his mortise-and-tenon skills and promoting the toys in both domestic and overseas markets.
Born into an ordinary family in Shanxi province, the 43-year-old Liu had shown great interest in traditional Chinese architecture since childhood, especially the mortise-and-tenon structures.
The mortise and tenon structure, dating back 7,000 years to the Hemudu culture, is found in some old buildings that contain no nails. Instead, they use interlocking joints to connect pieces of wood.
After university graduation, he tried several different jobs, including designer and project manager.
"As a graduate of fine arts, I still had the dream of being an artist — a painter or a craftsman," he said. "Therefore, I quit my job in 2012 and started my way of art."
Liu Wenhui designs with mortise-and-tenon blocks. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]
One day, when he saw a model of an ancient Chinese building in a museum, an idea blazed into his mind.
"Such models shouldn't just be kept in the museum," he said. "More people should connect with them."
He then had the idea to make a kind of toy out of a block, which could be taken apart and reassembled.
To make up for a lack of theory, he spent a lot of time reading ancient architecture books. Eventually, he put all his savings toward the design and manufacture of building blocks.
In 2017, Liu opened a shop online on Taobao, attracting lots of attention and customers. After years' of work, he now has a team of around 20 that includes excellent craftsmen and designers. In 2020, they developed the colored mortise-and-tenon blocks.
"I hope to combine the intangible cultural heritage skills with toys that educate," he said, "to allow more people feel the great charm of traditional architecture."