Thursday, December 17, 2015

Kumbak: Gold Leaf Embossing

In ancient times gold was a symbol of eternity, beauty and authority, and gilding clothes was symbolic of showing one's elegance and "planting hope on every pattern and character" [sic - from the KumBakYeon brochure]. 

Generally in China, Japan and Europe, the gilding technique was used for architecture, for the exterior and interior decor or even furniture decor. In contrast, Korean had little (if none) gilding of buildings, limited gilding of ritual wares, but its gilding of clothing was highly advanced and employed a detailed and technical woodblock imprinting technique on silk. Developed in ancient times, this technique or gilding of clothing remained unique to Korea through the centuries.

Clothing having gold was limited to royalty, or perhaps the highest royal officials, and wearing it "revealed the authority of the royal family and the ruler's desire for national prosperity through various patterns of gold leaf." [sic] Therefore, every pattern of gold leaf had to be followed by strict rules. The clothes with gold leaf were used as ceremonial robes, usually used only once, but they could be re-used on wedding days, 60th birthdays or other such highly important events. 

Passing down gold leaf embossed robes gave prestige and status to one's family. One family known to pass down gold leaf embossed clothing can trace five generations as having inherited it. 
1st generation: Kim Wan-hyeong, who worked under the control of King Cheoljong (1849-1863), Joseon era
2nd generation: Kim Won-sun, who worked for the last imperial family of the Korean Empire 
3rd generation: Kim Gyeong-yong, who was first appointed as human cultural asset 
4th generation: Kim Deok-hwan, who is currently appointed as national important intangible cultural asset No. 119 
5th generation: Kim Gi-ho & Park Soo-young, who are currently working in succession to Kim's father, Kim Deok-hwan
Four of us gathered at the KumBakYeon gold leaf experiential house in Bukcheon to make a gold-embossed greeting card and a gold-embossed bookmark.

Materials: paintbrush for the sticky glue, special glue, gold foil leaf papers, (wood) stamps, silk or material to stamp, and not pictured but a place to warm the glue for a few seconds just prior to stamping (trade secret!) 
The stamps all mean something different: peony for yangban, the Chinese character of "luck/propitiousness" ...
The design of the stamps used dictate the message being conveyed to the wearer or recipient.
My card on the left symbolizes luck/good fortune as I've stamped with Chinese luck character, the flower for fortune or good returns, and the butterfly which brings luck or fortune. The bookmark on the right is a wish for scholarliness and wisdom.
Among all the beautifully embossed pieces of clothing and accessories on display in the modern hanok KumBakYeon, this silken purse of a scholar with exquisite embossing caught my eye. Symbols of 싶장생 (the 10 symbols of longevity) are on it wishing the bearer a long and happy life. 
The ceremonial robe of [someone important (king?) and donated to the KumBakYeon]. This robe is for royalty as can be assured by the intricate high-quality of gold embossing and the type of symbols employed.
Clusters of grapes are symbols of fertility beside a character of buddha-like figure with a staff which exemplifies wisdom.
This belt is for the one-year-old baby. The butterflies are symbols of fertility, the red and blue colors are the balancing of yin and yang, the five balls are for five happinesses, and each ball having five grains inside which make wishes for blessings. [This is much like the propitious grain offering at Sajikdan at which offerings for prosperity of the nation and fruitfulness of the earth are prayed in hopes of the bestowal of heavenly blessings in the upcoming year.]
the five balls wishing for five happinesses
This is the seal of the emperor of the Daehan Empire, before royalty ceased to rule in the Korean peninsula.

금박의 순서 - Working Process
  • 도안 - design (first, a design is imagined)
  • 금박판 조각하기 - carving (the woodblocks for the design are carved)
  • 금박풀 만둘기 - making fish-based (mina) glue to adhere gold leaf (preparing dried mina cartilage, boiling it and squeezing out the cartilage to make a very sticky glue - used also in traditional bow construction)
금박믄양 올리기 - Sticking on the Gold Leaf Pattern 
  • 금박풀 칠하기 및 찍기 - brushing glue on the woodblock and imprinting (The mina glue is brushed but not gummed on the woodblock in smooth strokes, not clogging the carved fissures; the woodblock is stamped and pressed firmly onto the cloth.)
  • 금박 올리기 - sticking on the gold leaf pattern (The gold leaf is dabbed on the glue imprint and quickly and repeatedly tapped with the fingers - through repetition the gold leaf adheres to the cloth and the excess is flaked up through the repetition.)
  • 건조 - drying (the cloth with mina glue is hung to dry)
  • 뒷손질 - later adjustments (taking a tissue or soft smooth cloth and lightly wiping back and forth picks up the non-glued areas of gold leaf; a fine needle or point can lift excess leafing or clean up rough edges.)

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