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Master of pasted-paper sculpture

By Huang Beibei  (People's Daily Online)

09:43, July 07, 2012

Nie Fangjun talks to reports in his studio.(Huang Beibei/ People's Daily Online)

In ancient Fenghuang County, central China's Hunan Province, traditional Chinese paper craft is being passed on by Nie Fangjun, 81, who was born to a paper-crafting family. Nie has dedicated his life to the art of paper craft for almost seven decades. In this county, few local people would tell you they have heard of Nie Fangjun, but his nickname, Mustache Nie, is widely known. His paper crafts have been listed as a state-level intangible cultural heritage.

With a history stretching back thousands of years, pasted-paper sculpture was originally for gods or ancestors. As time passed by, more varieties of paper sculpture appeared and the art gradually transformed into what it's like today.

Fenghuang County pasted-paper sculptures have four distinctive characteristics, namely long history, strange shapes, bright colors, and light weight. The images of the sculptures include many features of local culture, such as animals, everyday tools, and characters from folklore. Nie Fangjun says there are over 400 types of paper sculpture designs, among which lion heads are the most popular.

The sculptures are full of details. For example, the curly hair of the lion is drawn into the shapes of colorful clouds symbolizing good luck, and the lion's eyebrows are placed high up the animal's head to indicate longevity.

To make a pasted-paper sculpture, a framework needs to be created from bamboo strips, onto which paper can be pasted and decorated to make the sculpture vivid. Nie Fangjuan says in total, 24 procedures are involved in the process, such as cutting bamboo strips, making the framework, and pasting the paper. However, he says the key is the technique of making the framework.

Producing the pasted-paper sculpture is a demanding skill that requires much time and effort. At least four and a half days are needed to make just the smallest lion head. Nie Fangjun finds himself spending most of his days at his table making paper sculptures. Although he lives in a district far from downtown Phoenix County, flocks of people from outside the area still visit him to buy his works.

As one of the few remaining artists in the field, Nie Fangjun has dedicated his life towards popularizing the art and is always willing to impart his skills to students who want to learn.

With all his efforts, Nie Fangjun hopes the ancient folk art will continue to develop in popularity and prestige.

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