During my visit to Korea in March I visited the Hansangsoo Embroidery Museum located in Bukchon Hanok Village in Gahoe-dong in Seoul.
While rapid development in Korea has replaced much of the old with new, Bukchon Hanok Village is an area dedicated to preserving Korean traditional houses called ‘hanok’.
Bukchon Hanok Village is nestled between the two royal palaces, Gyeongbokgung Palace and Changdeokgung Palace. Many of the little museums that line the narrow streets are opportunities for visitors to have cultural immersion experiences which include folk painting and doing different tile rubbings.
The Embroidery Museum has many exhibits of traditional embroidery including the works of Han Sang-soo, who has been named Intangible Cultural Asset No. 80. It was established to promote Korean embroidery as well as artwork, and to preserve the traditional techniques handed down from generation to generation, in a hope of encouraging a new generation of creations.
The Museum in its traditional setting was small but it did have some amazing pieces and I was blown away by seeing the fine handiwork on display.
But as this blog is about Hanji I really want to tell you about another amazing find that I made that day.
Sitting outside in the courtyard waiting for my friends to arrive I saw a piece of furniture, that was partially exposed to the elements. It was surrounded by old water bottles and boxes and it'd obviously been there for a very long time. It was dusty and the decorations were peeling off but upon closer inspection I realised that it was a piece of Hanji !! I suspect that the base was wooden but the decorations were definitely done in hanji paper. I have so many questions that I'd love to ask about it.
How old is it? Who made it? Has it lived somewhere else before finding a home at the museum? Has it always lived in this traditional home? Why is it not now loved?
It seems such a shame that such a lovely work of art is not being looked after, but if my questions could be answered, then I'm sure I'd understand more. At this point in time I don't know how to get those answers but in the meantime I can just wonder and appreciate the artwork that was.
I'm sure there are many more pieces like this all over Korea where a piece of furniture has been lovingly created in the past, but now, they're out of fashion and a more modern and practical replacement has been found. Which leads me to ponder what the future holds for this art form unless we encourage it's use both in Korea and abroad.