Sculpting a legacy

By Wang Kaihao/Wang Yiran | China Daily | Updated: 2017-01-17 07:19

Sculpting a legacy

Zhang Yu carries on his family's craftsmanship of clay figurine making. The owner of a gallery in Beijing and a workshop in Tianjin, he is dedicated to the evolution of the age-old craft. [Photo provided to China Daily]

A folk-figurine brand founded in imperial days looks to its future. Wang Kaihao reports.

A sculpture gallery in Beijing's 798 Art Zone seems at first glance to be a contemporary art workshop-the light is soft, and the design is simple yet exquisite.

A mysterious atmosphere prevails. A banner hung in the gallery says: "To retreat" in Chinese, which may arouse philosophical contemplation.

But looks can be deceiving. The space is a center for promoting Niren Zhang, a folk-art brand of clay figurines from nearby Tianjin municipality that has survived for nearly two centuries. It's a household name nationwide.

Niren Zhang's traditional craftsmanship was inscribed on the first national intangible cultural heritage list in 2006.

The owner of the gallery, which opened in October, is the sixth generation of his family to fashion the figurines.

"It's like Walt Disney," 39-year-old Zhang Yu says.

"The original pursuit remains but has been updated several times on the technical level.

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