Qinghong demonstrates how to make Wenzhou clay sculptures at a classroom in Wenzhou University. [Photo/WeChat account:culturedialogue]
Qinghong (pen name), an artist in Wenzhou, East China's Zhejiang province, has captured a vast amount of media coverage this summer for her recent Wenzhou clay sculpture masterpiece that mimics A Thousand Miles of Rivers and Mountains, one of the most famed Chinese paintings by Wang Ximeng of the Song Dynasty (960-1127).
Wenzhou clay sculpture, a folk handicraft passed down from generation to generation in Wenzhou since the 1950s, takes its origin from the millennia-old Chinese embossed lacquer craft. It was designated by the State Council as a national-level intangible cultural heritage in 2008 and was listed in the catalogue of China's traditional handicrafts to be revived in 2018.
Wenzhou clay sculpture, Huangyang wood carving, Dongyang wood carving, and Qingtian stone carving are the four most valued traditional engraving arts in Zhejiang province.
Wenzhou clay sculpture enjoyed its peak popularity between the 1980s and 1990s due to the contributions made by a group of top artists like Zhou Jinyun, who holds the title of "Chinese Arts and Crafts Master". However, recent years have seen a shortage of Wenzhou clay sculptors as the previous generation of artists are retiring.
Qinghong became Zhou's youngest apprentice in 2013 and has since shouldered the responsibility of carrying forward the folk handicraft in the coming decades.
According to Qinghong, it takes years of rigorous training to master the necessary technique for Wenzhou clay sculpture and at least one month of hard work to complete a single sculpture of even the smallest size. Despite such difficulties, Qinghong has never ceased her artistic pursuits.
In recent years, Qinghong has made numerous Wenzhou clay sculptures that imitate China's most well-known ancient paintings. Through this process, these two-dimensional artworks that are usually kept behind windows in first-rate museums are turned into three-dimensional accessible sculptures that are popular among a larger audience.
In addition to creating her renowned artistic pieces, Qinghong has spent a lot of time spreading the art of Wenzhou clay sculpture to the general public. She has compiled and published the first-ever textbook that teaches the basic skills for Wenzhou clay sculpture. She also regularly gives not-for-profit lectures at schools, museums, libraries, and residential communities around the city of Wenzhou.