Endangered Art On Brink Of Extinction
Endangered Art On Brink Of Extinction
  • Ewha Voice
  • 승인 2003.04.07 00:00
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A struggle Not To be Buried In A Time Capsule
Most readers remember the time in elementary school art class when they had to practice Korean calligraphy with a brush and black ink. But how many are aware that 80 percent of the brushes sold in Korea are imported from China?

Calligraphy maestro Moon Sang-ho, referred to henceforth below by his pen name, Chun-dang, is the only craftsman in Korea, who possesses the skill of manufacturing traditional writing brushes. His brushes are made of diverse materials with different sizes. Some are made with goat, weasel, or cat fur, while others are made with chicken feathers, human hair, wheat straw, or bamboo sheath, from pen to broom stick sizes.

Most impressive are the brushes made with infants" hair. "Ancient scriptures have descriptions of the tradition of making writing brushes with infants" hair. Such brushes are of the utmost quality, since infants" hair strands have natural ends, whereas those of grown-ups have cut ends," explains Chun-dang.

However, the Master"s pride lies elsewhere: "My greatest accomplishment is the bamboo sheath brush. It came as a result of seven years" endeavor." To the untrained eye, a bamboo sheath brush looks no different from a goat hair brush. Each strand of hair-like bamboo sheath was carved out of bamboo sticks by the artisan. With a coy, wrinkled smile, Chun-dang comments, "150,000 won a brush may sound pretty high to buyers, but that doesn"t even cover labor costs."

As one might expect, the majority of the customers in his shop are elderly people; a young person dropping by is pretty much a rarity. "Several years back, the government was very supportive of propagating Korea"s disappearing culture, part of which included traditional calligraphy," recalls Chung-dang, looking into the distance at the lake outside the exhibition hall. "However, this emphasis has died down, while more has been put on foreign language study and computer skills." In fact, in hopes of attracting possible followers belonging to the computer generation, he has created a homepage for his shop. Discouragingly, in the three years since its creation, only one person left a message on the board.

Traditional calligraphy is losing not only its practitioners but also its means to produce the materials. Though Korea used to import its materials from China, it is facing similar impediments in attaining necessary materials: Weasels are protected by environmental laws; black goats, not used in brushes, are preferred over white goats by farmers because of their use in Oriental medicines; and the white goats hair is too short for use, due to the artificial insulation imposed by the domestic spaces where they are raised, which inhibits their growth of hair.

Being the only artisan left with calligraphy brush-making skills, Chun-dang worries of the consequences of not finding a successor: "Techniques of handiwork can never be transmitted 100 percent to the apprentice. It is only through innumerable trials and errors that one learns the art,which cannot to be acquied through books, but through one"s fingertips." At the moment nobody serves as his apprentice and his son is pursuing a career in a different field. For now, his art work is still available for all to see. An exhibition displaying Chun-dang"s brush works will be open until April 28 at the Traditional Village in Namsan Valley.

Leaving the Namsan Valley, the reporter wonders if Master Chun-dang"s calligraphy brushes will need to be added to be in a time capsule for preservation. Is the ten thousand years history of writing brushes destined for extinction? Will this part of our history be kept only as a memory of the past?


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