Chen Shih-jen is a Sanchong-based artisan specializing in koji pottery and the cut-and-paste clay technique. For half a century, Chen had repaired and decorated more than 120 temples in Taiwan and around the world with his vivid and exquisite cut-and-paste ceramic works, and thus has been recognized as a national preservationist of such technique by the Bureau of Cultural Heritage.
"Cutting and pasting (剪黏)” is a traditional art form that originated from southern China. It became widely used to decorate traditional architecture at the start of the Qing Dynasty, and was introduced to Taiwan by Chinese immigrants during the Qing period.
Chen started began to learn cutting and pasting clay at the age of 12 from his grandfather Chen Tian-chi (陳天乞), a renowned Koji pottery master whose ceramic figures were known for their exquisite details and lively expression.
As a young apprentice, Chen began by running errands for his grandfather, who was based in Wanhua's Lungshan Temple. While doing chores, Chen observed and watched how his grandfather and other craftsmen made their crafts. At night, he secretly practiced and showed his grandfather the crafts he made to solicit feedback.
By the age of 20, Chen had mastered the sculpturing, mosaic framing, and painting skills that are required by the cutting-and-pasting technique. He became an independent crafts maker specializing in designing and creating Koji pottery for temples.
Used as decorative elements in temples, Chen's pottery works can be seen both on the inside and outside. For example, his works are prominently featured by the back and central lobby, the main entrance, the bell tower, and the dragon fountain of Wanhua's Lungshan Temple.
Moreover, his representative artworks - which encompass figurines, flowers, animals, and elements taken from legends, religions, folk tales, and historical stories - are always deftly integrated with the existing architecture.
Though Chen has established a name for himself in both Taiwan and Southeast Asia, he is now working to improve the cut-and-paste technique and adopt contemporary materials to create new koji pottery works that embody the spirit of time.
Chen noted that it is rare for people to pay attention to the decorative pottery upon visiting a temple nowadays, and even rarer for people to have knowledge of the koji school of pottery and the cut-and-paste skill set.
Therefore, his suggestion was for the public to snap photos of such decorative pottery whenever possible. These photos can then be used for preservation, research, and promotional purposes.