Area artist shows his skills at Barryton Winter Market

LENS EFFECT: Modern rice writers often place their work inside containers with curved edges that allow words or images inscribed on rice to be viewed easily by the naked eye. (Pioneer photo/Adam Gac)

LENS EFFECT: Modern rice writers often place their work inside containers with curved edges that allow words or images inscribed on rice to be viewed easily by the naked eye. (Pioneer photo/Adam Gac)

BARRYTON — Area residents who visit Fork Township Hall for the Barryton Winter Market have the opportunity to see an ancient art form in action.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Saturday, Winter Market Master Isaiah Davison uses a very particular set of skills and a number of ultra-fine point markers to write messages on single grains of rice. Davison first started writing on rice a number of years ago.

“I learned when I was 17. I really wanted to work security at a local amusement park in New Jersey. The only way they were hiring into security is if you already worked in the park at a different job,” he said. “The only job available was rice writing.”

Rice writing is not something that was invented for amusement park entertainment. The art form is thousands of years old, Davison said. He learned the art from another employee of the amusement park who had spent years perfecting his technique. The older employee used a very convincing teaching method, Davison added.

“I was actually taught using a much finer pen than I use here,” he said. “Every time I broke a nib, I had to buy a new one – and they were $35 apiece. It was learn how to do it right really fast, or don’t have a paycheck.”

The type of pen most prized by modern rice writers has a tip that is essentially the point of a needle. The extremely fine tip also is used in architectural drawing, Davison said. The modern preference is slightly different from what ancient rice writers used, he added.

“Traditionally, rice writing was done with a super-fine paintbrush or a super-fine razor,” he said. “It’s like how scrimshaw works on a deer antler – you do an etching and then take an ink or dye and rub it over it and polish it. Wherever there is a depression stays the color of the dye and the rest is polished back to the original color.”

Traditional rice writers would use a razor to cut one edge of a grain of rice flat and then use the same razor to etch an image in to the rice which could then be filled with ink, Davison said.

“That’s one of the ways they used to do it,” he said. “The other way would use a paint brush with essentially a single hair.”

Rice writing was practiced by monks, as both a religious art like calligraphy and a method of establishing personal protection, Davison said.

“They would take prayers or scriptures, inscribe them on a grain of rice and then keep them on their person,” he said.

Words or images written on rice are enhanced by the use of a curved glass container that acts as a lens. The container is filled with an oil-based solution, which serves a very particular purpose, Davison said.

“You can’t fill the container up with water, otherwise it would make the rice swell up and you couldn’t read it anymore.”

Davison stressed he is just one of the many artisans using the Barryton Winter Market as a way to show off their talents and collections during the months when the Barryton Farmer’s Market is on seasonal hiatus.

“My whole thing is getting support for the town from the surrounding area,” he said. “We are expanding to include antiquities, a different baked goods vendor and our sticker vendor is returning. If we get more than 20 vendors, we will try to relocate to the community center.”

Anyone interested in participating in the Winter Farmers Market, which takes place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays at Fork Township Hall, should contact Davison at (989) 289-4699 or message the Barryton Winter Market Facebook page.


Posted by Adam Gac

Adam is the Pioneer City/County Reporter, covering government in Mecosta County. He can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at (231) 592-8347.

Leave a Reply