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1946, 畫布油彩, 91×116.5cm

oil on canvas





    Even though the vibrancy of the original oil painting is somewhat lost, a vivid and energetic scene emerges from this yellowed photograph. The pulleys on the crane spin swiftly round as workers use long poles to grapple with the unprocessed logs floating in the pond. Wartime had only just ended, but the sawmill is thriving and in full operation, with enormous logs piled high across the entire mill yard.







    This sawmill in Chiayi was a setting which Chen Cheng-po visited and painted at the beginning and end of his career as an artist. Studying these two works closely, can you perceive any differences?






The log pond





    Commonly referred to as the “Chinese fir pond” by Chiayi residents, the large pond was used to hold Formosan and Taiwan cypress logs and those of other premium buoyant wood varieties. Soaking the logs helped to maintain the quality of their wood. Furthermore, alkaline substances released into the water by the wood were said to have cleansing properties, so neighboring residents would come to the pond to wash their clothes.





Different grades of wood





    Large loads of wood were transported from Alishan to the sawmill and then measured, sorted by grade, and stored on-site. Logs of more expensive, premium grades of wood were deposited into the log pond, while logs of lower-quality wood were stacked on the ground in great piles for buyers to inspect and bid upon.





The workers





    Wearing conical bamboo hats and grasping long poles, workers stood atop giant logs floating in the log pond, pushing and pulling them into place. The sawmill covered such an extensive area that even with the use of large-scale machines, its operation depended upon human labor to transport heaps of wood throughout the mill yard. Grappling with logs in the pond was dangerous work. If workers were distracted or careless for even a moment, they risked falling into the water and possibly losing their lives.





The crane





    The crane was constructed on a set of tracks upon which it could move back and forth along the edge of the log pond. With its boom and hoist rope extended over the water, the crane was ever ready for the task of moving the giant logs below. Historical records indicate that, in addition to a standard overhead crane, the sawmill had a German steam-powered crane capable of lifting three tons. This perhaps is the piece of machinery depicted in Chen’s painting.






    The silhouette of this crane appears as early as 1929 in Big Chiayi, published the same year. Source: Chiayi Town Hall, Big Chiayi (Osaka: Eishin Publishing House, 1929).





Taiwan Province’s first fine arts exhibition





    In October 1946, with the enthusiastic sponsorship of painters Yang San-lang and Guo Xue-hu among others, the Republic of China’s newly established Province of Taiwan hosted its first fine arts exhibition. The event was held in Taipei’s Zhongshan Hall and styled after the governmental exhibitions of the Japanese colonial period. As an active participant in Taiwan’s art circle, Chen was invited to serve on the panel of judges for the exhibition.





The missing painting





    After the February 28th Incident of 1947, it became taboo to utter Chen’s name and his paintings suffered a similar fate. Many were hidden away; some were even destroyed. Historical records document that this painting was purchased by the Chief Executive Office after the provincial art exhibition and then presented to Chiang Kai-shek. However, its present whereabouts are unknown and all that remains is this photographic reproduction.