Helping hands for Buddha heads

Helping hands for Buddha heads

Three aspiring journalists learned an age-old Chinese craft from one of its last practioners

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Artist Paul Chan Lai-cheung (far left) shows Shreena Thakore how to add  a layer of clay to her Big Head Buddha and (left) explains the history behind Big Head Buddha making.
Artist Paul Chan Lai-cheung (far left) shows Shreena Thakore how to add a layer of clay to her Big Head Buddha and (left) explains the history behind Big Head Buddha making.
Photos: Joyee Chan
On April 16, three Young Post junior reporters joined a workshop which taught them how to design paper Big Head Buddhas. It was organised by the HKICC Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity. Artist-in-residence Paul Chan Lai-cheung showed the participants how to create the structures from papier mache. Here they recount their experiences.

Jenny Leung Chi-yan

Chan Lai-cheung is a master craftsman who started making big Buddha heads when he was just four. Now he's putting a lot of effort into promoting this traditional art.

At his workshop we saw many colourful paper heads resembling the heads of ducks, starfish and pandas. They looked like cartoon characters. Chan explained that these heads are shaped with the help of bamboo moulds rather than the traditional cement models used for the Big Head Buddhas. This makes for a lot of creative freedom in designs. Chan said that as fewer lion dancers use the Big Head Buddha, his business has suffered. But he wants to pass his skills on to younger generations so the art will not die out.

During the workshop, which was open to the public, students, children and parents learned the basics of creating paper heads. Although it may look easy, making paper heads takes plenty of practice. For example, you need to learn to draw eyes and lips. I tried but failed. Practice makes perfect!

Jacqueline Leung Ching-tung

A floor full of heads! That's what greeted us as we entered the workshop. They were big Buddha heads.

Making a Big Head Buddha requires two to three days, Master Chan told us. But we took a short-cut by using pre-moulded paper heads made in his factory. There was still plenty of work to be done, though. Over three hours, we applied a coating of white clay and painted features on the paper heads.

Master Chan was very helpful, just like a kindly grandfather. He told us he learned the craft as a child from his father although he found it boring working in his father's shop. Yet over time he developed an interest in the art. He's trying hard to preserve this unique Chinese art form.

Shreena Thakore

"I want to keep my family tradition alive," Master Chan told us. "This is my heritage."

He has been making Big Head Buddhas all his life. Although he is now 60, he still organises workshops in schools around Hong Kong.

He said he was sad that the art was dying in Hong Kong and most Big Head Buddhas now come from the mainland. "It's a pity," he said.

Master Chan believes in incorporating elements of Western culture into this old Chinese art to make it relevant. "I teach my students the basics, then let them experiment with designs."

At the workshop, we certainly unleashed our creativity, conjuring all sorts of shapes: ducks, starfish, even Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.

Master Chan said he enjoyed adding the finishing touches. "When I was younger, I was terrible at painting fine details on the face properly. But now I love adding eyelines, eyebrows, lips and teeth."

Compiled by Joyee Chan

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