Somewhere out in the high mountains of the southern region of China, a native is carving exquisite furniture, baskets and other unique pieces out of a Shan-Mu tree. The tree, similar to white cedar or fir, is grown exclusively in that area.
Skilled carvers take the main trunk of the tree and harvest it for furniture such as chairs and a variety of tables. Although those pieces are highly coveted, it is the rest of the tree collectors seem to be searching for.
The remaining stump and root are left in the ground for over a year to properly cure.
After curing, the stumps and roots are dug up. They are taken to local artisans who construct unique pieces.
Using the stump as a bottom, the tree is then made into a basket, tray or bowl. The entire piece is carved by hand. One of the most fascinating features is the handles. The handle is an actual root of the tree which grew from the same side of the tree as the basket. The opposite side of the handle is then re-glued to the other side of the basket.
Some trees do not even have roots that grow so they cannot be used for baskets. Those stumps are used for bowls, plates and trays which do no require handles. Therefore, handled bowls are much more valuable than bowls or trays.
Due to the difference in each tree, each basket has a totally different structure and texture. Each may also have what people may call imperfections such as cracks or holes. Some can also have spiny outside pieces. Others may be smooth to the touch. Colors can also be different depending on the type of soil and conditions. But, none of those qualities are not considered flaws and therefore do not decrease or increase the value of the piece. Because of the huge difference of each piece, values are really based on the taste of each individual. No two baskets are ever exactly alike.
The only problem can be if the wood splits. Most often that occurs in the handles. When that happens, handles are removed and the baskets are made into other items such as plates and wall decorations. Some people re-glue the handles, but the value of the basket is decreased.
The inside of each basket is also carved and sanded to make it smooth. This highlights each pieces unique grain. The outside is very seldom carved and appears natural.
All baskets are given a clear sealer. Some are glossy and some are natural. This is applied to both the inside of the basket and the outside of the basket. Each basket can then be easily maintained by owners just by applying good quality furniture oil on it from time to time.
Carvers often imprint each basket with their initials. Presently no particular artisan is more sought after but in time and as popularity grows, that may change. Crafters have been making objects out of Shan-mu trees for over 5,000 years.
These unique baskets are used for everything from holding flowers, fruits and candies as well as for decorative purposes.
Although these baskets are not antique, not a lot of Shan-mu baskets and furniture make it in one piece to the United States. Those that do make it safely are highly coveted due to their uniqueness and rare availability.
Prices tend to range from $50 for small baskets to hundreds for larger baskets. Furniture can sell for up to thousands of dollars.
Pieces are considered works of art and recently have been on display at various art museums.
Note: Shan-mu trees are not endangered trees.
Source: Himalayan Salt Company Importers