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Paper Mache Artist | Wong Wen-biao

  • Date:2017-05-22
Paper Mache Artist | Wong Wen-biao

  • Chinese Name: 翁文標
  • Born: 1930
  • Birthplace: Kinmen County (Southern Taiwan)
  • Did You Know That …?
  • Wong was one of the heritage preservationists selected by the Ministry of Culture for its three-year preservation project in documenting the national folk heritage of Wangye (王爺信仰), in which paper-mache sculptures play an important role in the sacrificial portion of the ceremony.

Wong Wen-biao is a paper mache artist who has helped preserve the folk culture and techniques of traditional paper mache in Kinmen. Over the past decades, Wong has created numerous paper-mache sculptures for traditional rituals and ceremonies. He is a registered preserver recognized by the Bureau of Cultural Heritage for his possession of cultural heritage preservation techniques.

The paper-mache folk culture of Kinmen was originally introduced from the Chinese province of Fujian. For centuries, paper-mache sculptures have been used in traditional rituals for people to pay their respect to spirits and gods. Such sculptures are usually seen in religious rituals, festivals, wedding ceremonies, and funerals.

Born in a county where traditional culture and customs were less impacted by urbanization due to Kinmen's unique history and location, Wong started learning how to make paper-mache sculptures at the age of nine from his father who ran a paper mache store, and worked for his father until sixteen.

After working for a merchant guild for three decades, Wong returned to the traditional craft of paper mache when he was 50 to continue the family business with his other two brothers.

The making of paper-mache sculptures requires stringent and deft techniques. The process starts with using thin bamboo strips, cotton papers, cotton threads, and iron wires to form a frame, then transparent paper is pasted on the frame, and expressions and movements are created by folding the paper in different ways. The last step is to paint and garnish the papered frame to make it even livelier.

Wong's paper-mache works are known for their clear lines and exquisite craftsmanship. Also, his knowledge of traditional folk customs enables him to create almost every kind of vivid sculptures for religious events and even some private affairs.

Wong's paper-mache sculptures are commissioned by clients for traditional religious rituals and ceremonies, including "spirit house (靈厝),” figurines that are used as substitute for deities, and other items like paper brides, lamps, and mountains that hark back to traditional Chinese mythology.

The intangible culture of Kinmen paper mache is now in danger of disappearing today as Wang, who is now in his late 80s, had stated that his deteriorating physical and health conditions will not allow him to cultivate new apprentices.

However, as a registered cultural heritage preserver, Wong has worked closely with the Bureau of Cultural Heritage and his techniques have been recorded to help preserve and pass down this unique folk culture.