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Clay Figurines
Fu Xinyue.
Fu Xinyue.
Photo by Jim Deutsch, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution
“Making clay figurines is the process of creating life.” —Fu Xinyue, clay figurine maker

Artists who make clay figurines draw inspiration from characters in classical literature, stage dramas, and folktales, as well as scenes from everyday life. They shape and carve animal and human figures that are exchanged as gifts during festivals. The raw material of this 2,000-year-old tradition is a mixture of clay, fiber, river sand, and water. Today artists incorporate new materials such as plastic, stone, wood, and metal into the clay.


Zhao Jianwu.
Zhao Jianwu.
Photo by Josh Eli Cogan, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution

The Tianjin Clay Figurine Zhang Workshop is a state-owned company with about thirty artists devoted to the research and production of painted clay figurines. Two of these artists participated in the Festival: Fu Xinyue 富心悦 and Zhao Jianwu 赵建武. Both have extensive experience with the two primary processes of figurine making: first shaping and sculpting clay into a wide range of subjects and then painting the figurines after they have been dried and polished. One of the workshop’s distinguishing characteristics is its production of realistic figurines that represent common people.

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