The sweet and enduring memory--Tianmen sugar sculpture
Updated: 2011-02-23 17:18
Three kinds of themes are commonly seen in sugar sculptures: loyalty, luck and protection against evil. A representative work of loyalty is Guan Yu Reading at Night, and work of luck is Long Xi Feng, and work of protection against evil is Detoxicate Five Kinds of Poisons.
The main raw material for Tianmen Sugar Sculpture is malt sugar. Different colored malt sugars can be made by using edible pigments. Malt sugar used in sculpture has to be heated with higher temperatures and it can only be used after several processing procedures, which includes the sorting and cooking of malt sugar, followed by the firing, melting and colorizing of it.
Tianmen Malt Sugar Sculpture can be divided into two kinds according to different techniques. One is “blowing” and another is “moulding”. “Blowing” needs to be quick and accurate. While “moulding” emphasize work’s structure and color which needs artists to have both exquisite skills and aesthetic consciousness. Generally speaking, animal and plant figures often are made using the “blowing” technique and human figures are often made by “moulding”. However, Tianmen Sugar Sculpture works are often made through the combination of “blowing” and “moulding”. Actually these two kinds of techniques cannot be separated, and when combined it makes a sugar sculpture that is perennially fresh and interesting.
Themes of Tianmen Sugar Sculpture are of a wide variety. There are hundreds of famous works and tens of commonly seen ones. Famous works of animal and plant figures include Shuang Shi Xi Qiu (two lions playing with a ball), You Long Xi Feng (a dragon playing with a phoenix ), Qi Lin Song Zi (unicorn sending sons), Lotus Roots, Lao Shu Tuo Hu Lu (a mouse pulling a gourd ) and Grasshopper and so on. Works of human figures are too many to calculate. Some popular works include Jiang Taigong Fishing, Great Sage Equalling Heaven, Zhao Zilong rescue his master, The Eight Immortals, nezha's triumph against dragon king, sending-child buddhist and Playing Flower-Drum and so on.
Tianmen Sugar Sculpture is carefully and exquisitely made. It may look simple but is the result of decades of practice and skills, combined with the artists’ painstaking efforts.
The Declining Tradition
Today, there are only about five people who engage themselves in this traditional handicraft. But due to the lack of practice, their works are not as good as it once was.
In April 2007, Tianmen Sugar Sculpture has been listed as one of “The First Group of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Hubei province”. This fine traditional folk custom, which started in the Tang Dynasty and later prospered during the Ming Dynasty, must be preserved.
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