page contents The Little Bonsai: The Art of Shiwan Mudmen Figurines 石灣窯

Growing and Caring for Bonsai Trees

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The Art of Shiwan Mudmen Figurines 石灣窯

shiwan mudmen figurines

In China and Vietnam, Shiwan ornaments are very popular among many Bonsai communities. It takes sometime to master crafts skills of Shiwan sculptures. Most of authentic statues are market and clearly distinguishable from cheap copies. There is an old saying, ''Original is always better than a copy'' and such philosophy certainly applies to Mudmen figurines too.

Bonsai with Shiwan
Bonsai with Shiwan Figurine on display

The manufacture of ceramics is an ancient industry in Kwangtung Province of China; indeed, many of its archaeological sites actually contain kilns dating between the Neolithic Age (4200-3500 BC) and the Ming Dynasty (1368-1744). Late 7th- and 8th-century ceramists in northern China, working primarily at kilns at T'ung-ch'uan near Ch'ang-an and at Kung-hsien in Honan province, also developed "three-color" (san ts'ai) pottery wares and figurines that were slipped and covered with a low-fired lead glaze tinted with copper or ferrous oxide in green, yellow, brown, and sometimes blue; the bright colors were allowed to mix or run naturally over the robust contour of these vessels, which are among the finest in the history of Chinese pottery. To a large extend, the art of Shiwan figurine craftmenship is relatively unknown in Europe and in the US. Or lets say, its still not as popular as many expected it would be.

Some time between the Tang and Sung periods (960-1279), the town of Shekwan began to go commercial, undoubtedly the result of the opening of Canton to foreign traders. As time went on, enormous amounts of utilitarian pottery began to be produced: cooking utensils, dishes, and jars; and soon, to appease local demand, more decorative figures which later became known as Shekwan ware. It comes in a wide variety of glazes with many interesting names: among these are: sour carambola (mottled purple-red), raindrops on the wall (blue with white drippings), and sea mouse (pale blue and shiny green).

Laozi ''Old Master'' riding an Ox
Today, the Shiwan Artistic Ceramic Factory (est. in 1952) carries on the figurine production established in the Ming Dynasty. Hundreds of people are employed, of whom two thirds are women. Following the principle of “quality product” is based upon elaboration, each piece of ceramics with “signs” of the art masters is produced via six complicated procedures (including design, plaster molding, pouring slurry for figuration, amending cog, glazing and burning). Employees work 8 hours a day, making an average of about $60 a month, although sculptors make more. Production of the factory today is composed largely of figurines of people and animals, with some miniatures and tableware. 

More than 2 million pieces are made each year, of which 60 percent are exported, mostly to the rest of Asia. Because the clay is so plastic, many of these figures can be modeled in incredible detail; hence, different kinds of figures have different expressions with which we can identify them. A god or a general is usually dignified; the drunken Tang Dynasty poet Li Po is usually depicted lifting a glass to the moon. Arms and legs are usually modeled quite powerfully to give an impression of quiet strength -- you will notice these most particularly on the good-looking fishermen." A professional team of art masters has inherited and developed the outstanding tradition of Shiwan ceramic techniques ranging from lively earthen figures, statues and animals with thick and earthy ceramic glaze, to modern ceramics of plain, elegant and fresh patterns, thus forming its own unique artistic style and making Shiwan ceramic techniques extraordinarily splendid.

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One of the best shiwan (shekwan) sculptures we've ever encountered, is the legendary Laozi riding an ox: Laozi means "old master". It is said that he mounted an ox and headed west, before leaving, the border guard asked if he would write down his ideas, which Laozi obliged to do, thus he wrote the Tao-te ching (Book of Changes). The robes are done in a rich white glaze that is naturally aged with time, the glass-like eyes of the ox reflects the pinnacle of the potters art and is indicative of the very early 20th century (late Qing, early Republic). 

Because of the superlative and delicate craftsmanship of Shiwan pottery, most of the Ceramic Sculptures and Ceramic Figurines created there have been being collected in the national museum and by collectors all over the world. Shiwan Chinese Ceramic Figurines and Ceramic Sculptures is nowadays a popular idea for special gifts, Chinese collectibles and as home decor figurines.

Shiwan figurine
Sitting Shiwan Mudman with hammer

Antique Shiwan Mudmen era 1910 - 1920

Wide Shiwan figurine selection can be found here:

Decorated Chinese Shiwan Ceramic Figurine
Shiwan Doll Master sitting with Peach (longevity)
Shiwan Shang Yuxuan with Feng Shui ornaments
Shiwan Ancient Chinese Lady painting in Garden
Shiwan Twelve beauties Lin Daiyu 
Golden Pumpkin symbolizing Luck
Shiwan Taoist character made of red glaze ceramic

Interesting Bonsai articles can be found here:

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Please click here for more information on --> The Origins of Bonsai
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Please click here for more information on --> Japanese Tanuki Bonsai
Please click here for more information on --> How to Water a Bonsai
Please click here for more information on --> Bonsai Healing Methods

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