Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Here we go

The jet lag gets me when I least expect it, but at least it allows for early morning work time as I finish up two applications. I fly today, the last flight of the year (I wish I could say the last flight for a long while but it's not true), so I can start teaching at Oberlin in a few days—after transporting an entire paper studio. Stefan did a great photo shoot yesterday as usual and I had a favorite vegan meal with a dear friend. I can say with full certainty that this year is hurtling to an end with me just barely holding onto the passing of time. Next year will be big. Big!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Sweet home

My penultimate day in Korea: seeing my dyeing teacher for two meals, splurging on an indigo and persimmon dyed dress, and having one last lesson at the mounting studio. This is glue from the bag; easier than making your own (fermenting flour for two months, changing out the water, cooking it, etc.).
This is the already fermented version that was dried and stored. Mr. Doh was showing me how to soak and cook it, even though we rushed the soaking bit because of time limitations.
I was so caught up in a last-minute application that the recent stress about a Better Left Unblogged Situation that was going on for the last few weeks was shoved aside. I also shipped a ton of boxes. I love how easy it is to do that: all the permanent markers, tape, scissors, and bubble wrap provided as a complimentary service. Plus the guy who you can pay to build you perfect custom boxes for things like papermaking tools and kimchi (I sent the former, the woman in line after me sent the latter).
I only slept for the first 20 minutes of the 13-hour flight. Instead of writing an article that is due entirely too soon, I watched four movies and several TV shows and had my first snacks in a long time (bought two bags of potato chips at the airport). This was an interesting lesson in nutrition: for the last three months, I have not snacked at all. VERY unusual, as I usually eat all day. But the kind of food that Koreans eat, plus the importance they place on eating on time every meal, made for a different experience for me. I'm sure it also helped that I was overly booked and that it is considered weird and rude to walk while standing up/walking/commuting. I know I'll go back to my old habits but it was quite a revelation to see that three meals a day and nothing else is completely possible and not uncomfortable.
The lined paper at left dried too quickly (the board was next to a heater and a fan). I learned two ways of doing this and had long conversations with Mr. Doh about all kinds of things. It's a shame that I didn't have enough time to learn more from him but I am also very happy to be back home. Had a family reunion immediately after I arrived yesterday, and plan to rest for a few days before a quick photo shoot next week and then another flight (but short!) back to Ohio to teach. The jet lag battle has already begun.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The loose and important ends

[Lamp from the hanji section of the Craft Trend Fair at COEX in Seoul last week.] After one final interview for a TV documentary, I finally got to sit down and have dinner tonight with my hanji teacher, Mr. Jang of Jang Ji Bang. His wife joined us after she closed the shop (and of course I had gone earlier to pick out lovely hanji, my last paper purchase of this trip). I was so touched when they gave me pine nuts that his mother had cracked open one by one by hand, a big bag, that she insisted on giving to me.
[One of Mr. Yoo's decorative screens in Jeonju.] We talked about all kinds of things but mostly my biggest difficulties on this trip. He has changed a lot since I studied with him, whether from age or experience or making so much more paper, and I was so grateful that he imparted so much wisdom and advice at a time when I really needed it. Lots of technical advice, too. I've now gotten three versions (all roughly the same) of what I need to do for a hanji screen to keep it flat.
[Hanji at the industry support center in Jeonju.] Most of the advice was about letting things go and not letting baggage pile up, to stay empty and to stay away from worry. He also said some meaningful things about my future, his initial expectations of me and how they changed, and the ability I have to keep doing the work I am doing. And of course his female employees (who must be in their 80s by now) all asked if I was married yet. Ha!
[Bamboo nodes cut out at Mr. Yoo's studio in Jeonju.] Mostly the advice was to talk less, stretch more, and keep doing my own thing. He said that the one thing that humans cannot solve or resolve is time: you can't stop it. Tomorrow, I add to today's 1.5-hour postal expedition (packing and shipping five big boxes and thirteen book orders) and ship more hanji back home.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Hanji seminar mania

While deep in the middle of my nasty cold, I had to rush to Seoul Selection and grab a couple more of my books to have on hand for the hanji seminar that began for us special guests on Wed. It was fun to see my books alongside Krys Lee's, a friend of a dear friend. I was really concerned about making it through all that travel and super intense seminar schedule, but here I am in bed, trying to recap before I go zzz.
On Wednesday morning, the international guests, Bo Kyung Kim, and Korean staff climbed onto a big tour bus headed for Mungyeong Hanji. It was the coldest day yet, enough to take your breath away, but I thought that was a nice touch—perfect weather for hanji work.
We were well cared for by KCDF staff, who provided water, hot packs, cookies, chocolate, and whatever else we might need on the many bus journeys. I was thankful that our lunch stop right before we got to the mill was for traditional chicken soup, stuffed with rice and ginseng.
And yet I was energized because I was finally going to visit the mill I've wanted to see since 2009.
Father and son, Mr. and Mr. Kim. They did a talk about the steps of making traditional hanji and they have a lot of pride over the fact that they do something no other mill in Korea does: every step the old school way. That includes growing and harvesting and processing their own kozo, and also making their own ash and ash water for cooking.
I totally fell in love with this beating surface and stick.
This couching stand would kill me. Do you see how low it is to the ground? Very interesting technique with rolling the log from the center out.
I loved watching the bal (screen) float on a stick in this ginormous tank. The reflection of the man in the hat is of Nick Basbanes. I so very much enjoyed spending time with him and his wife Connie, and was very curious about his long career as an unaffiliated journalist and writer.
The younger Mr. Kim took us outside to show us their dak (paper mulberry) harvest. The wind by now had whipped up so strongly that we didn't stay outside long.
They had been steamed and then froze, so I wonder how stripping will go.
They let us into their old original space for papermaking, a dark old space with low ceilings. They don't work in there anymore but have left it as a museum of sorts and I was very excited to see this winch press.
While the younger Mr. Kim demonstrated webal tteugi (the traditional sheet formation method), I sneaked behind the heat dryer to do an impromptu interview with his father, the provincial intangible cultural property holder of hanji making. He almost cried talking about how his son grew up around papermaking (and left, but came back), and said he was embarrassed to tell me that he started making paper when he was nine. He can't pull anymore but still does other work and pointed to the steps that he still participates in. He talked about how his family works seven months of the year just scraping bark. It was hard to pry us all away, but we were herded back onto the bus to ride another three hours to Jeonju.
We were exhausted by the time we got to dinner, but then had to stay on point as we met the mayor of the city of Jeonju, pictured above at right, standing, as well as other Jeonju representatives and people who had visited Cleveland for the Watermarks Conference in 2012. The food was insanely delicious and wonderful, and then we were treated to an unexpected pansori performance (kind of like Korean opera, a very distinctive type of singing that tells stories, accompanied by musicians). I think everyone passed out in their respective hotel rooms.
[Jiseung cord lamp] We had breakfast, checked out, and then visited the Hanji Industry Support Center. It was super cold inside the large glass structure but there was lots to see around us.
They gave a lecture about a replica project and I kept checking my phone for Professor Ham to call so that I could go pick up my new bal/teul from Mr. Yoo. I was able to bring along my new colleague Kayoko Moriki-Ichinomiya, who was such an inspiration in many, many ways—a papermaker, book conservator, washi proponent, and multi-lingual to boot.
One of three new bal/teul! Don't even ask how I'm going to get these back (one is an order for an upstate NY professor). But the others...yeesh! It was good to see Mr. Yoo again, and in his new home near the hanok village.
His wife seemed more sprightly than last time, and maybe even in better health. She was working on the outer grain of the bamboo to prep for splints.
The new work space is so bright and she roasted sweet potatoes on the stove that she shared with us. I was sorry that we weren't able to stay for lunch, but Prof. Ham had to run and we had to rejoin the group for more famous Jeonju bibimbap. Then back on the bus to head to the archives of the Chonbuk National University Museum.
This was a real treat for everyone. There was something that delighted each of us in this trove of books and objects.
Oak and cedar storage drawers for paper artifacts.
Two floors in this particular. No shoes allowed and I almost slipped on the way up the stairs.
These woodblocks printed these books. There was an area outside where they set up blocks for us to print for fun. I skipped that but it was nice to see others participate.
I was meh about the books but as soon as I turned around and saw THESE shelves, goodbye! I left the group to take a look.

This was the one I was most excited to find. I sat on the floor (and then my back went out again, on the other side) and stared at it because I knew it was woven out of paper. There was someone who worked there who said, no, it's wood, and I got mad but later it was confirmed by the person who was explaining the archives that indeed, it was jiseung.

After that, we were on the bus back to Seoul. Not content to just let us nap or have a hanji-less moment, they put a DVD of Im Kwon-taek's film, Hanji, on the big screen. It was funny to see the people we would see at the seminar (and one guy was on the bus with us!) in the movie. On top of that, we had more guests join us on the ride back to Seoul. One, in the very back, was Mr. Hong: the national intangible cultural property holder of hanji making (he and my teacher's father share this designation). WOW. I was promised an introduction later but instead just said hello myself. Because how can you ride the bus with a national treasure and NOT say hi?!
[Hanji lamps] Upon our return to Seoul, we visited KCDF's Craft Trend Fair and COEX, the big convention center south of the river. We didn't have time to see everything, so they steered us to the areas pertinent to hanji. At the second booth, I felt like I was going to have to lay down from all the bright lights and dry recycled air, so I started to ask Mr. Hong questions about technical problems I had been having back home: why is my bal rippling? He knew exactly the trouble and how to solve these issues, and I was so excited to have someone to talk to about these things.
[Hanji blinds] We had dinner upstairs, western style, and they had chosen our seats so that I was next to Mr. Hong. He asked about our kozo back in Cleveland, what we did for formation aid, how to take care of the tororo while growing, making paper in the summer when you have to and ideas about how to deal with stinky vats, and so on. They hired another performance troupe to entertain us after dinner even though we were more than ready to head back to the hotel.
[Hanji lamps] After that: barely any sleep, rising early for the bus to the convention center, a meeting for the panel, Nick's keynote, four lectures, a group photo on stage, lunch, five more lectures, the panel, meet and greet, bus to the hotel, dinner and goodbyes. Today was so intense that I have zero pictures and almost lost my voice before the panel because there were SO many people to meet and talk to!
[Hanji wallpaper] Some of those highlights: the rep from Andong Hanji, whom I had met twice my last visit, Youngdam Sunim, the Buddhist nun, and my hanji teacher!!! I was so touched when the first and last said they only came because they saw my name on the program and wanted to see me. Youngdam Sunim took my hand and wouldn't let for for a long time.
[Hanji lamps] I felt a little out of place on the panel as everyone else was in the business of selling paper (well, just in business in general!), but as soon as we wrapped up and I got off stage, I was surrounded by all kinds of people: those I knew, those who came as fans to see me, and converted fans after my remarks. I wished for more time and steam (by this time, I was so dehydrated! I had to walk out in the middle of the seminar to ask for the temperature to be turned down in the ginormous hall that had turned into a dry sauna—no surprise, with a purported 400 guests), but we were finally herded back onto a bus to the hotel. I have so very many notes to transcribe and now people to meet. I am not sure how I will stay on top of all of this, but it's going to be a race to the end in this final less than a week.

Lots of gratitude for this impressive gathering.

Monday, December 15, 2014

First ever International Hanji Seminar this Friday!

I already mentioned after my Jeju trip that the hanji seminar in Seoul was free and open to the public, but wanted to remind you that it's happening this Friday! The guest list is impressive, with speakers coming from China, Japan, Korea, Germany, France, Italy, UK, and US. It will be a long, full day, and I'm excited about some new colleagues that happen to be in country who will be able to visit as well. It's always fun to get paper geeks into a room together. See you soon!

Wet cold happy

I walked up the hill to take a peek at the Gana Art Center, which I had visited the last time I was here. I've done this in several places, just checking to see what remains, and how my memory compares to the present. This is a beautiful and quiet but very steep neighborhood with some of my fondest and also difficult memories. I met Jin Youngsun, professor emeritus of Korea University, who taught Korean art history and fresco making at Duke on a Fulbright grant just this past year. We had a delicious lunch, with local food, and then went to her amazing studio. I thought it would be rude to photograph, but someday in the future I'll return. She said to come back and make art! She is set up not only for fresco work but for encaustic.

She also had an amazing catalog from a Seoul show in 1990 that exhibited work by famous western artists (basically, all from the canon) who were mailed big sheets of hanji from my hanji teacher's mill to make new art. Why didn't I know about this before?! I had met people last time who said things like, "We need to mail hanji to famous people so they can help spread the use and knowledge of hanji." Hello, it already happened! But I guess it wasn't enough.
The other gift she had for me was introducing me to one of the disciples of Mr. Lee, whom I had met at his Nakwon shop last week. Mr. Do Young-sik trained for 18 years under Mr. Lee and now has his own business in Insadong. He also happened to be the BEST person to ask to help me saw off the excess wood on my latest basket. Perfect tools, perfect precision. Thank goodness I brought my woven pieces: when Prof. Jin first explained that I wanted to see the step-by-step process before I leave next week, Mr. Do he said I couldn't learn that quickly.
[Paste mixed with just the right amount of water.] After I pulled out my jiseung work, he changed his mind!
Measuring and slicing the backing paper for the first paste up.
The hanji (at front) has been dampened and brushed flat onto the table surface. He's pasting up the backing sheet with a wide brush.
He insisted at many steps that I come closer and watch (sans camera) so we've missed the part where he puts the pasted paper on a rod and lifts it and folds it to make it easier to transport. Now he's placing it onto the damp hanji.
And it has to be just so! After that, it's brushed flat and flush, then flipped over to add paste to the edges so that it sticks to the drying board.
Again, there was a lot of exhortation about coming close as if I've never carried a damp sheet over to a drying board with a brush in hand. Lots of details about where the brush goes and which fingers go where and what never to do. He moves very, very quickly.
So I missed shooting my favorite part where he opens an edge slightly and blows air in to prevent the hanji from sticking to the board. The only parts glued to the board are the edges. I have to go back another day to see more. But I do love watching experts work.
I didn't have pictures of today's pretty meal and snowy view, but here's the freshly chopped octopus squirming on the plate from a family friend dinner last week (I don't eat this kind of thing, gives me the squirmies).
This was one of the bigger platters. So many other things on the table that night, plus lots of stories and blowing off steam. Tonight after dinner eating fruit with my aunt, I realized that I'm leaving next week and that this is my last full week. How did that happen?! Hoping for more of the same as today: happy encounters, skilled work, delicious food, warm family time, and hopefully an early bedtime.