Moulding deities


In a factory in Hattiban, an assembly of sculptors wor-ks away to loud Hindi music. For months they will follow the rhythmic pace of the music and mould the pieces of wax, clay, and hot metal to ma-ke the perfect metal statue. This is where Kalu Arts and Handicrafts makes its famous metal statues in the traditional way.

They are traditional, in the sense, every step used in creating the metal statue requires 100 per cent hands-on work, and the sources of inspiration are Nepali and Tibetan culture based. “Traditional means they (statues) are from religious scripts, like Tara, Manjushree, Lokeshwor and Buddha,” said managing director/artist, Rakesh Awale.

With the spread of Buddhism in the west, the main market for traditional metal statues is among foreigners. Awale considers Nepali artistes the best promoters of Nepali and Tibetan cultures to the outside world. “Many Nepalis are Buddhists. They know and understand the position and styles of the gods and goddesses,” said Awale, a former Buddhist monk himself.

The Nepali art market has changed greatly at the local level while it continues to thrive in North America and Europe. Awale said there isn’t a market for traditional arts in Nepal. This isn’t just due to the lack of interest, but also the high prices of the statues.

“Only those who make gumpas and temples are the local customers,” he said.

There are very few artworks in the world that require as many steps as creating metal statues in the old way. It all starts with a small scale but very detailed, clay statue that is drawn from a photo. After the miniature is fine tuned to perfection, the clay statue is copied into plaster of Paris in its actual size. This statue is separated into pieces for big statues and then a wax-sit is poured onto each piece. Once the wax cools, the thin layer is pealed away with the imprints of the artwork. The separate wax pieces are then joined together and sent to the clay department.

“We mix very fine clay with cow dung and apply it onto the wax mould,” said Awale. A mixture of yellow clay and bhoos is applied after the cow dung mix is dried for several weeks. The second layer also takes several weeks to dry, depending on the size of the statue. Not until all these steps are done do they touch actual metal.

They work with all types of metals, though most of the statues are made of copper. “The religious mind thinks about the gold, metal and colour,” Awale said, explaining the benefits of metal statues that create the demand for it among Tibetan lamas and collectors.

Because pure copper is very hard to work with, Awale said it’s necessary to mix at least 8-12 per cent of softer metals such as zinc and brass. “Casting (hot copper) is a little difficult,” he said. “This is the most important step; all the departments have to work together.”

The molten copper is poured inside the clay moulds where the wax layer evaporates. The hot metal is then put into cold water to let it set and the clay is chipped away.

Now that the shape and details of the statue is achieved, it’s sent to the finishing department to smooth any rough surfaces. The last stage is the carving. This is where simple tools are used to bring out the expressions of the face and the artistic details.

With Awale’s famous father, Kalu Kumale, as the senior artist and his brothers, Kalu Arts and Handicrafts has distributed its statues at many temples, like Patan Mohaboudda temple, two Bal Kumari temples, and at Visnu Devi temple.