Self-taught sculptor wins medal for his carving - the first such accolade for an outsider.

A New Zealand artist has won a medal in China for carving jade, becoming the first person outside the country to do so.

"We're making history," said Donn Salt, 67, after being awarded a silver medal in China's national Zi Gan Bei jade carving competition, which was held in the eastern city of Suzhou at the end of last month.

One of Mr Salt's pieces, a seated white dragon with its wings folded around it, was chosen from more than 2500 entries to be one of roughly 80 medal winners.

Jade is more highly prized in China than gold. Its popularity has been boosted because, in the midst of an austerity campaign by the Communist party, it is seen as far more discreet than gold or diamonds.


During China's national holidays earlier this month, Mr Salt's dragon was on display before thousands of visitors at the Arts and Crafts Museum in Suzhou.
"Some of the younger carvers have been blown away by the sculptural quality of it," said Mr Salt.

"Probably the nicest comment for me was from Mr Ma, the director of the Suzhou Arts and Crafts Museum. One of the last things he said to me was that the piece would have a very positive effect on Chinese carvers."

Mr Salt, who lives in Tutukaka, was invited to enter the competition by one of China's 54 "jade masters", who saw some work exhibited in April.

"He asked what I was working on and I showed him a set of dragons and he said what is the next one? I said there is a white one I am working on, and he suggested I might want to enter it."

China has thousands of years of history of carving jade, and Mr Salt was impressed by the control and experience of Chinese carvers.
"It is amazing, they do not go fast but slowly and gently and the lines can be no thicker than that of a sharpened pencil," he said.

In turn, the Chinese, who often only carve into the surface of their stones, have marvelled at the depth of Mr Salt's pieces.

"For that dragon, I only used around 10 per cent of that stone, the rest was carved away."

Self-taught, Mr Salt worked in his family's jewellery shop but soon got bored. When a family friend showed him some New Zealand jade, or greenstone, he was intrigued. "I just started carving and learned by trial and error."