Wu Haidong, a 34-year-old leather carving artist from north China’s Hebei Province, started to carve images of people’s beloved pets into handiworks in 2018. Over the past four years, he has created more than 1,000 leather carving works featuring images of pets that had passed away.
“I’m a pet owner and I know how it feels when pet owners lose their beloved animal companions. My leather carving works can make the pet owners feel that their animal friends are still with them,” said Wu.
Wu had a fondness for fine arts when he was a child. He majored in graphic design as a university student. “I learnt leather carving, jade carving and wood carving at university, and in the end I found that I was more attracted to leather carving. I can carve different patterns onto leather pieces and then turn the pieces into purses and tags,” said Wu.
Wu engaged himself in the leather carving business after graduating from university, having continuously improved his techniques by learning from leather carving masters from across the country. He also uploaded videos of himself practicing and exploring new carving techniques on social media platforms.
In 2018, one of Wu’s subscribers asked him to make a driving license cover carved with the image of his dog, which was on the verge of death at the time.
The combination of traditional craftsmanship with the theme of pets was difficult for Wu at first. “The dog’s hair was curly and to express this feature in the carving work was a challenge for me,” Wu recalled, adding that he tried twice before successfully finishing the handiwork featuring a lifelike image of the dog.
After Wu released a video of him making the driving license cover on social media, it attracted over 300,000 thumbs-ups online. Soon after that, Wu received requests from many pet owners who wanted to also have a tailor-made object featuring their pets made by Wu.
Wu has created tailor-made leather objects carved with images of different pets, including cats, dogs, hedgehogs, and hamsters, among other animals. It took him three to five days to create a tag, but the orders for the tags were always placed 30 to 45 days ahead of time.
Before Wu started carving, he would ask for several photos of the pet from the pet owner and then chose one picture that he considered to be the most suitable one to be turned into a piece of handicraft. Then, he would design a picture of the pet’s image and start carving it onto the item.
One of his customers, surnamed Ma, said the leather tag Wu made for him made him feel as if his beloved pet was still alive. The pet dog, nicknamed Tangdou, was diagnosed with gastrointestinal disease and died at the age of 2. After the death of Tangdou, Ma never kept any other pets.
Currently, Wu has some 3 million followers on domestic Chinese short-video sharing platforms.
“I want to call on more people to love animals. A pet is a companion and a family member for its owner,” said Wu, while adding that he wants to promote the leather carving technique so that more people could come to know about it and fall in love with it.