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Flushing shop sells Chinese artwork of stone

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The hustle and bustle of downtown Flushing seems far removed from the legends of Chinese mythology.

But in a store on Main Street, those stories are alive and well.

CSC Gifts Trading Inc., which is located in the back of an herbal shop at 40-10 Main St., sells hundreds of statues carved from stone illustrating tales of Chinese fiction and history.

“They are very beautiful, very intricate,” said Jennifer Chen, who runs the shop with her husband, Han Wu. “All of these [stones] come from nature, have a natural color.”

The pyrophyllite stones depict a variety of characters: buddhas, soldiers, tigers and dragons as well as floral patterns.

An artist who specializes in one character often cannot carve another, Chen said.

“Some carvers are very good at the people but not very good at the birds,” she said.

The intricacy of the works does not come quickly. The average piece takes eight months for a carver in China to complete, while one large jar decorated with flowers and Buddhas can take craftsmen more than 30 months to fashion.

The cost of the carvings reflects such effort. While the smallest, most simple statues sell for about $20, the flower jar has a pricetag marked $7,500.

There are four different types of stones based on where they are found in China, Chen explained, with names such as “Chicken blood” for stones with red streaks and “Mongolian Jello” for more translucent stones.

Over the years, the supply of the stones has dwindled, making the statues more valuable.

Some stones are appropriate for particular characters but not for others.

For example, Guan Gon, a Chinese soldier from the third century who reached legendary status for loyalty to his king, is said to have a red face and therefore statues depicting him should be made from the Chicken blood stone.

Because of his fabled loyalty, Guan Gon is seen as a protective spirit.

“People bring him home to make the house safe,” Chen said.

Although most of the customers at CSC Gifts are Asian immigrants, others who visit the store grew up in the United States.

“I have a lot of American customers, too,” Chen said.

Chen gained an interest in carving as she grew up in southern China. Her father, Sixuan Chen, had taken an interest in the stones as a teenager.

“In the beginning, I just collected,” Sixuan Chen said, his words translated from Chinese by his daughter. “Later on I started to design.”

Sixuan Chen, visiting his daughter from his home in China, still designs statues, although he never carves the work himself.

In addition to the carved stones, the shop features silk embroidery, painted vases and small, decorated bottles.

The carving of Chinese stones into statues is in many ways a lost art, said Wu, the owner of the business.

“One thousand years ago people carved all the time,” he said. “No one does this anymore.”

Nevertheless, for Sixuan Chen, the artwork represents powerful stories.

“I like Chinese culture, the old poems, the history,” he said. “I want to bring those stories to the stones.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.

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