In Chinese folklore, humans were originally made from clay by the Goddess Nuwa. Folk artists in East China’s Jiangsu Province continue to honor that legend by modelling their own figures, some with a modern twist.
Crafted in Wuxi, these life-like dolls are called Huishan clay figurines. They are part of a Chinese folk art tradition that dates back at least a thousand years.
Making a fine clay figurine involves hard work and a series of delicate steps. Selecting the proper clay is the key to a well-made sculpture.
Zhou Lu, a clay artist, said, "The raw material comes from the paddy field at the foot of Mount Huishan. The soil there is soft, moist, highly malleable and suitable for moulding."
The figurines are also painted with many colors. Black ink is used to draw facial lines and hair, a process that truly brings the characters to life.
"Look at the eyebrows, if painted lower, the facial expression is unhappy; if higher, then it’s overexcited. It’s very detailed," said clay painter Yin Yiyi.
The figures are mostly based on characters from folk legends and Chinese operas. The boy Da A Fu is the most popular. According to the legend, a god disguised itself as the big-headed boy to fight off evil and protect the locals.
Nowadays, artists are adding new elements to the traditional art. This one is made to celebrate the year of the snake.
“The snake is in the shape of the number 8, which is considered a lucky number in Chinese culture. There is also a gold ingot, which represents good fortune," said Clay artist Yu Xianglian.
Every Chinese new year a different zodiac animal will inspire and challenge the artists. China’s ancient legends live on, taking new forms in the clay sculpture of Wuxi.
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