Incredible Master Sculptor of Buddha Statues

 

Up in the hills in his quiet studio, Master sculptor Jin Hyung Lee gently carves the clay cast of his latest statue, the dragon king. “You probably know Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva – she has assistants, and one is a young boy – the dragon king…he’s a symbol of the sea,” he says.  Jin Hyung Lee has been sculpting Buddha statues for about 45 years. “I’m the only one in South Korea who is officially designated as a master sculptor of Buddha statues.”

Buddhism came to Korea during the Three Kingdoms Period in the 6th and 7th centuries. Buddhist art and sculptures flourished in the past, but now only a few people have mastered the traditional Korean methods to create a Buddha statue. Lee has spent years learning the technical process as well as developing the necessary patience.  “I think this is my calling. When I work, I become calm without any thoughts – I would say it’s total absorption. I always work with a sincere spirit.”

The Process of Creating a Buddha Statue

The process of creating a wooden Buddha statue is laborious. First Lee sketches the design, and then he creates a clay model the same size of the final statue.   The clay model is important to make sure there are no mistakes on the wooden sculpture. Wooden logs are chosen and trimmed and Lee chisels and carves the Buddha statue. Once the body is complete, the face is carved and the statue is painted and gilded with gold powder. The last stage is the eye opening process, where the eyes and final details are painted on.   “When it’s completed, Buddhist monks conduct a consecration ceremony. Finally, the statue appears as a statue we can worship.”

South Korea’s Master Sculptor of Buddha Statues

Master Sculptor Lee’s Work

Lee is careful to make sure there are people following him who have the craftsmanship and knowledge to carry on making Buddha statues after him. “I have 5 graduated [apprentices] and around 10 apprentices. They’re doing well.”

Lee says he’s made Buddha statues for 3,500 temples in Korea and overseas to Africa, France, Hungary, China, Vietnam Chile, Brazil, America and other countries.   He recently sent a Buddha statue to a New York temple.   His work is slowing down now and he’s thinking of retirement. “When I’m 70 I’m planning to hold my last exhibition of my final work. Not lots of statues, just my one final statue.”

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Written by Emma Hall
Editing and photography by Jarrod Hall
Translation by Seunghwan Jung

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2 comments

  1. Wow…!  How amazing that you had the opportunity to speak with an artist of such high caliber and cultural significance.  A piece of living history.  I had no clue that one man was responsible for carving so many of the Buddha statues that we see around the country!

  2. Wow…!  How amazing that you had the opportunity to speak with an artist of such high caliber and cultural significance.  A piece of living history.  I had no clue that one man was responsible for carving so many of the Buddha statues that we see around the country!

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