A sculptor seeks success in clay sculpting
He was about 14 years old when he first laid his hands on clay sculpture at his village in Bidung in Trashigang.
Ten years later as time and situation changed, Norbu, 24, started Gaakee Unique Arts and Craft along with his two friends, specializing in making clay sculpture at the startup centre in Changzamtog, Thimphu.
Norbu, with no education qualification and without any sort of training from any institute, started the business of making clay sculpture statue three months back. Today Norbu employs nine other sculptures along with his two other partners - Sangay Wangmo and Sonam Tobgay.
Norbu’s venture into sculpturing began when he accompanied a Lama in Sikkim, India for two years. He then learned how to sculpture and decided to take it as a profession. He started sculpting first at his rented home.
In Bhutan, sculpting or Jinzo is one of the oldest forms of craft originating in the 17th century. Clay statues, paper mache, clay masks and pots are examples of Jinzo. Bhutanese clay sculpture is among the best in the Himalayan region and many gifted sculptors were invited to build statues for some of neighboring Tibet’s ancient monasteries.
In Bhutan, towering clay statues of Guru Rinpoche and Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal are central figures in more than 2,000 monasteries all around the country. All the clay sculptures are religious in nature and most of the master sculptors are employed full time by the government. Clay sculpturing skill is also one of the skills taught by the National Institute of Zorig Chusum.
In ancient times the frames of the statues were built from bamboo and thick-stemmed grass. Nowadays copper or iron wire and rods are used. The centre of a statue contains a carved column of wood (sogshing) which represents the life force of the statue. It is usually made of juniper wood. The top of the wooden column is carved in the shape of a stupa and the bottom is carved to resemble a vajra. The column is divided into several sections.
Norbu said getting raw material is difficult as they have to travel to Gedu in Chukha to bring the raw material after identifying the best clay.
He added that friends came as god in disguise who inspire and supported to start this clay sculpting and now it has became his profession.
Meanwhile, Bhutanese are famous for the quality and the intricacy of their clay sculpture, representing deities and religious figures. The most renowned craftsmen come from Heyphu monastery (Neyphu) in Paro valley and have worked the world over.
The quality of the image also comes from the mixture of clay and other materials such as the paper used. The mixing and beating of clay is done by hand and then the artist on a bamboo or light wood framework shapes the image.
Norbu along with his two friends are planning to acquire loan from financial institutions and expand their business. His clay made statues’ cost depending on the length of the statue people order. Currently his centre receives around five– ten orders in a month.
Norbu advices youth that there are many opportunities in the market but the only thing is to explore and grab the chance. He shared that hard times do come but overtaking the obstacles with positive note brings fruit at the end.