The Korea Foundation has recently published “Masters of Traditional Korean Handicrafts” in an effort to introduce the richness of Korea’s handicraft culture, as well as the elegant works of distinguished artisans, to English readers.
With an exquisite example of Korean embroidery on the cover, the book presents a selection of articles from the “Artisan” section of Koreana, a quarterly journal published by the Korea Foundation that features diverse aspects of Korea’s culture and arts for readers abroad. By providing insightful details about Korea’s masters of traditional handicrafts, the book offers a personal glimpse of prominent Korean artisans who have been at the forefront of efforts to preserve the essence of Korea’s traditional culture and arts, through a lifelong dedication to their particular area of handicrafts.
In line with such handicraft themes as Fashioning Costumes, Crafting Everyday Items, Wondrous Patterns, and Carving Wood and Metal, the articles present the background of individual artisans and their handicraft specialty, along with descriptions of the unique characteristics of various items and a general explanation of the production process, which offer certain insight into Korea’s cultural and artistic traditions.
The section on fashion items features six artisans in the fields of indigo dyeing, needlework, Hansan ramie, and gat (Korean horsehair hat), followed by a section on everyday articles, such as the works of traditional mulberry paper (hanji), Korean-style tray-tables, and bamboo wares. The third section focuses on the elegant patterns associated with traditional Korean handicrafts, such as Goryeo celadon, mother-of-pearl lacquerware, hwagak (ox-horn craft), silver-inlay, jade carving, and leather-wares items. The final section features seven masters of wood and metal craft works, including totem poles, royal seals, Korean-style archery items, string instruments, and letter engraving.
A majority of the masters of traditional Korean handicrafts featured in this book have been designated Important Intangible Cultural Properties. The longstanding tradition of Korea’s handicrafts has been maintained by their delicate touch and lifetime of dedication to their craft, despite the steady inflow of external influences, especially that of Western culture. Indeed, it is a serious matter of concern of how these traditions and artistic techniques can be continued in the future, in light of the advanced age of these practitioners. It is thus hoped that “Masters of Traditional Korean Handicrafts” will attract long overdue attention to the cultural significance of Korea’s traditional handicrafts and its artisans.