Paper Sculptures Superb Works of Art

 January 25, 2021
Cai Jianhua presents her new artwork at her home in Zhengzhou City, Central China's Henan Province. [Xinhua/Feng Dapeng]


Do you believe a piece of paper can be carved into a fine work of art? If you take the time to examine an exquisite paper sculpture, you will no doubt be impressed by the artist's skill. Paper sculptures integrate various art forms, such as paper-cuts, sculptures, traditional Chinese paintings, oil paintings and woodblock printings. Given the ingenious and creative designs of the items, many Chinese and foreign artists recognize the craft of making paper sculptures as an exquisite art form.

Given the items' strong, three-dimensional effect, paper sculptures are also called "paper-relief sculptures." Relief, as a technique for making sculptures, means to raise. Creating a "sculpture in relief" involves creating the impression the sculpted material was raised above the background plane. What is actually performed when a relief is cut in from a flat surface of stone or wood is a lowering of the field, leaving the other parts of the item to look as though they were raised.

Cai Jianhua makes a paper sculpture at her home in Zhengzhou City, Central China's Henan Province. [Xinhua/Feng Dapeng]


Records indicate the craft of making paper sculptures originated during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). Given the evolution of paper-carving technologies during past dynasties, the sculptures have been widely used in a well-paying media — illustration.

Cai Jianhua is a native of Zhengzhou, capital of Central China's Henan Province. She is a provincial master of arts and crafts, and she is a municipal-level inheritor of the craft. She has been creating paper sculptures for 20 years, during which she has won many prizes for her artworks. 

With her magical hands, Cai uses simple tools (including scissors, glue and a ruler) to create paper sculptures, which vividly depict animals, vehicles and buildings. She has never complained, even though many years of hard work has left her hands rough and callused. Her heart is filled with delight whenever she examines her "masterpieces."

Creating a paper sculpture takes a lot of skill and patience. Although it usually takes several months to complete a large "project," Cai takes her time. With her enthusiasm for beautiful things, and her persevering effort to improve her artistic skills, she has created many works of art that have captured their "vigorous vitality" during the past two decades.

A fever caused Cai to lose her hearing in her left ear when she was a little girl. "I was sensitive and lonely at that time," she recalls. "Like a 'lucky star,' the craft (making paper sculptures) brought happiness to my life."

Cai began learning how to make embroideries and paper-cuts when she was a little girl. "Influenced by my grandmother, I developed an interest in creating the items during my early childhood," says Cai.

In 2000, the plant, in which she worked, closed due to a drop in business. Within a short time, Cai began selling paper sculptures made by herself.

In recent years, she has put a lot of effort into promoting the craft. She takes delight in teaching others, including disabled people and autistic children, how to create paper-cuts.


(Women of China English Monthly November 2020 issue)


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