Sculpture Factory

Sculpture Factory
03/10/2007 Derek

A typical scene in the Jingdezhen Sculpture Factory.  Porcelain figures of this scale and complexity are especially difficult to produce.  In the foreground is a wheeled cart used to transport sculptures between workshops during production.

After the subject is modeled in clay, the model is broken apart into pieces from which plaster molds are made (e.g. arm, hand, finger).  Once the plaster molds are dry, slabs of specially formulated porcelain are pressed into the molds.  These clay parts are then joined together with slip, a delicate operation in which timing is essential.  Often the joins crack during drying and must be carefully repaired with a mixture of dry porcelain powder, water, and slip.   Once the final porcelain figure is completely dried it can then be sprayed with glaze, usually a transparent-white glaze that will make the porcelain appear whiter than it actually is.  The porcelain sculpture is then fired in one of the Sculpture Factory’s large public kilns in reduction atmosphere at a temperature of around 1310-1330 degrees Celsius.  Sometimes sculptures will not survive the firing, and very often those that do will have cracks along the join lines.  After high-firing the sculpture must still be painted in brightly-colored overglaze enamels and fired in a large enamel kiln (these days, electric) to red heat, approximately 800 degrees Celsius.  Finally, any remaining cracks or other faults are hidden by fillers and pigments to match the color.

Each step of the above process, from modeling to firing, is carried out by one or more specialist craftspeople.  A single sculpture passes through dozens of hands before completion, even including professional carriers who transport the object from workshop to workshop.  The Sculpture Factory itself is a highly specialized ecosystem that has evolved its own techniques and materials (including specially-mixed porcelains) specifically for the large-scale production of porcelain sculpture.