Joss carving



Joss carving is the fashioning of joss paste or joss sticks into figurines and idols from Chinese mythology, opera and history.1 These joss sticks can be 1.2 to 1.5 m high, and elaborately carved with dragon and phoenix motifs, or embossed with colourful divinities. They are used by Buddhists and Taoists during religious ceremonies and prayers, and in temples and shrines. Lit at the tip, the burning sticks emit a fragrance that is said to be pleasing to the gods.2

Joss sticks are made from a mixture of joss-wood dust and water.3 The wood dust is ground from sappy trees that grow in China, Thailand and Malaysia.4 Each joss stick consists of four layers of joss paste, with the final layer giving it a smooth texture. The stick takes more than a month to dry completely.5

Carving can only begin when the joss stick is completely dry. A mound of joss paste is mounted on the stick and carving begins. Small figures of about 15 cm take about 2 hr to carve and paint, while work on the metre-long ones can take up to three days to complete. The carver uses a knife, an ice-cream stick that functions as a spatula, and a bottle that he uses as a rolling pin.6

The art of joss carving and making joss-paste figurines is said to date back hundreds of years.7 Joss carving apprentices are trained in the craft by a master for four to five years, depending on their ability.8 The masters themselves would have apprenticed for other masters for years before they became recognised in their own right.9



Author

Andrea Craig



References
1. Ho, M. (1984, January 23). Art from dust. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Joss carving: A vanishing trade. (1985). Goodwood Journal, 2nd Qtr., 30–33. (Call no.: RCLOS 052 GHCGJ)
3. Joss carving: A vanishing trade. (1985). Goodwood Journal, 2nd Qtr., 30–33. (Call no.: RCLOS 052 GHCGJ)
4. Ho, M. (1984, January 23). Art from dust. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Joss carving: A vanishing trade. (1985). Goodwood Journal, 2nd Qtr., 30–33. (Call no.: RCLOS 052 GHCGJ)
6. Joss carving: A vanishing trade. (1985). Goodwood Journal, 2nd Qtr., 30–33. (Call no.: RCLOS 052 GHCGJ)
7. Ho, M. (1984, January 23). Art from dust. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Joss carving: A vanishing trade. (1985). Goodwood Journal, 2nd Qtr., 30–33. (Call no.: RCLOS 052 GHCGJ)
9. Ho, M. (1984, January 23). Art from dust. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources
Chiang, M. (1995, August 14). Ban giant joss sticks – they are not traditional. The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Reaching for the gods. (1993, October 9). The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 5 August 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Arts>>Decorative arts>>Carving and carvings
Skilled labor--Singapore
Carvers (Decorative artists)--Singapore
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Services>>Retail and wholesale
Commerce and Industry>>Labour and Employment>>Vanishing Trades
Vanishing trade