Saturday, November 19, 2016

Gopanhwa (Ancient Asian Woodblock Print) Templestay

The Gopanhwa Museum (aka Museum of Ancient Asian Woodblock Print) was started in 1999 as the brainchild of the Taego Order monk who operates the entire grounds. Director Han, with a PhD in Museum Education, is passionate about his private collection of about 4,300 ancient woodblocks and prints which represent five Asian countries: Korea, Japan, China, Mongolia and Tibet. In days prior to the conveniences of Internet and Ebay-like services, he would travel extensively to Asian countries sleuthing down Asian woodblocks and old prints to add to his collection. 

23 years ago Director Han, as a monk (he still is a monk but allows his hair to grow out as he works with people of everyday society), visited China and saw woodblocks. He felt a connection and wanted to learn more about woodblock making. And that was his beginning with his passion concerning woodblocks. In those days he was always going to China to continue his learning of woodblock craft. Now his focus has changed from doing and learning to collecting and preserving, and thus, the creation of his woodblock temple and museum. He says there are few original books and woodblocks remaining -- the Tripitaka preserved at Haeinsa is a primary and well-preserved example -- but China doesn't have these. He is madly running around trying to collect the few remaining woodblocks and prints so they can be preserved and appreciated.

The unusual-shaped temple, one of the first buildings constructed on the grounds, was designed by Director Han. The inside is truly spectacular--you'll have to visit to believe me! Also unusual is the Buddha image in the foreground here; it had been decapitated, but Director Han erected the Buddha in his temple garden and commissioned another stone head to be carved. The Hawaiian lei covers the seam and hides the discoloration between the old and the new stone.
Director Han has intense knowledge and his hands are about as expressive as his words. A special thanks to Sonja Glaeson who hosts the travel experience group in Suwon, Hippie Korea. Sonja was our phenomenal translator; otherwise, we would have missed the deeper meaning of all the symbolism and deep history wrapped up in the temple and the woodblocks. 
Director Han carved the Buddha in the temple himself. It was carved from a 300-year-old well-aged pine trunk, and it was completely carved in 3 weeks. Director Han praises Buddha for the quick carving of the temple's central image. 
Director Han commissioned this painting in the temple. The characters in the painting are a combined representation of all the mythic gods in Asia: the chilsung which is Taoist and gradually changed into a Confucian spirit-concept, Chinese spirits, the mountain god, Indian spirits especially as Hinduism transitioned into Buddhism, the dragon king represented by 매기 (a fish), and of course the Four Heavenly Kings. 

Buddhist food, and Buddhist manners for giving thanks

Before eating the Buddhist temple food, everyone was given a prayer-chant to recite along
with Director Han to express thanks for the food.
Buddhist monk style meal! Director Han was educating us on the order of eating and the command of Buddha to eat everything and not waste; everything means eating even the last grain of rice and the last speck of pepper powder. We were to swish water around in our bowl after eating and drink it all so as to "eat everything".
We were a little reserved about diving into the food the first meal ... not sure of the manners.
Meal 2. Oh never mind! If you're hungry, just eat. Worry about manners when you're full!
Gopanwha Museum: Ancient Asian Woodblock Print Museum

This whole museum was amazing! It has recently received an award for being one of the best museums in Korea! Also recently, Director Han had a woodblock display at Kyoungbokgung Folk Museum which ran for 2 months!

A brief history of ancient printing:
  • Printing was best during the Goryeo Dynasty, but then the best moved to Japan during the Edo period.
  • First color prints were made about 400 years ago in China. Then Edo embraced this style and greatly expanded on color printing. 
  • Korea didn't do much with color printing. Instead, they inked woodblocks with the typical black and after stamping colored the paper by hand.  
  • Korea did like embossing paper, which was a mark of high aesthetics and therefore highly valued in Korea. To emboss, they dampened hanji paper, pressed it on a patterned wood mold to emboss the pattern onto the paper.
  • Bamboo-style (mid Joseon) - printed for writing and making accordion style
In short, the development of woodblock printing shifted each century 
  • 17th C - China
  • 18th C - Japan
  • 19th C - Korea
  • Now - Africa and artists like Picasso get a lot of attention with woodblock forming
Woods that have traditionally or preferentially been used by the three NE Asian countries are:
  • 돌배나무 (wild pear, which doesn't have knots) - China
  • "sakura" - Japan
  • pear and cherry - Korea 

The museum is filled with treasures and each treasure has a story. The display in the picture above attracted a lot of our attention. In the display is an original Ming Dynasty art book; it is 400 years old and is the oldest art textbook known! Next to it is a 17th century Japanese copy of a famous art book from the 1600s. People who search for these books come here!

Another treasure is a late-17th century Ching Dynasty print that is a recreation of an art book from the Ming Dynasty. The book is totally made from multiple woodblock prints with different inks and without the use of any brush. 

Director Han greatly values these books and says "Since these woodblocks and prints are now recognized and valued as art, they can be protected and preserved for posterity as important art forms." 

The oldest book in this collection is represented by a single printed page of a sutra printed in the 9th century! The oldest woodblock here was created 500 years ago!

Three (3) special hands-on woodblock activities:

Stamping a t-shirt:

We each were given a white t-shirt, the choice of several stamps to ink, and instructions on how to stamp cloth to get the best results. After we stamped our t-shirts and allowed them to dry, Director Han wanted us to put them on so he could get pictures of his "pupils" showing off their scholarly endeavor.

Carving a fish, the symbol of eternal wakefulness in Buddhism:

Other than the tour of the absolutely phenomenal museum, carving the silly fish was my favorite part of the weekend. One of our group had been on this templestay program two or three years ago, so she had told us about the carving process, and I got all excited and came with pictures of tigers to carve. Director Han was absolutely firm about me not carving a powerful tiger but instead just making a cloned fish like everyone else. I was not amused ... but I have to say, in the long run, I think I benefited more by carving the fish because I could see my carving results and everyone else's and then we could see which style reproduced better. My style, even though carved very neatly, didn't reproduce as nicely as the others. It lacked character. This was very important information to gain!

Embossing a book cover with a woodblock stamp

The large patterned woodblock we used for embossing was, once upon a time, an "ironing board" for the old-fashioned method of ironing by striking wooden sticks on a flat surface. I had never heard of one of the old ironing boards as having a carved motif for leaving impressions in "ironed" clothing. Amazing!

The steps in making embossed book covers was is to traditionally use bees wax, but we used the more accessible candle wax, to rub in one direction on the construction paper. Rubbing back and forth rips fragile paper fibers and makes the cover rough and uneven textured. After laying a layer of wax on the whole page, we folded the paper around a stiff cardboard shape and glued the two together. Then we took the paper to the embossing board and laid the paper on the wood, wax-side up to rub a piece of wood over the entire book cover, leaving a pattern behind. 

After the cover had been embossed, the thick cover was hole-punched so with needle and thick thread we could sew the book covers and inside pages together.

Various inks, various patterns, gorgeous outcomes!

This whole weekend templestay was very unusual. While the temple is the central part of the grounds, the central focus is to experience the proper ancient usage of ancient woodblocks and to appreciate them as central elements to ancient scholarship. 

Just before we left, Director Han's wife, the curator and phenomenal cook for the visitors of the templestay program, introduced us to a special Monkey King woodblock. She even brought out the orange ink for inking the block--orange being the typical ink used for that particular carving. This was very special, especially as one of our group has a collection of monkey king objects and stories.

Woodblock carving competition:

As we were bidding our talented director goodbye and leaving, Director Han suddenly informed us that there was a woodblock carving competition currently taking place. He pointed to a wall-announcement and then to me and said, "You, tiger!" Haha, I hadn't wanted to carve the fish, but kept insisting on carving a tiger. He wouldn't let me, saying I needed methodology. I got a bit of that in his two-hour woodblock carving session, so here was my chance to carve my tiger. Yeah, I decided that I really wanted to enter this contest! The downside of the event, however, was that I had less than two weeks to design, carve and submit. Well, I gave it my best effort. You can read about my carving process here.

[If anyone is looking for woodblock carving materials, Hangaram Mungo has two branches at the Express Bus Terminal, Seoul. One Hangaram is a well-stocked stationery store, while the other Hangaram store around a couple of corners is for the serious art student: paints of all kinds, easels, papers and hanji, tools for various kinds of art, and yes, tools and smallish woodblocks for the carver. Very useful store! Leave your cash and your credit card at home before going, though!]

Templestay information:

One-day experience: People can come on tour (by arrangement) and either spend a day from 10:00-18:00 being introduced to the temple, the spectacular museum, and make a woodblock carving. W5,000/adult. Not sure of the minimum number of participants - perhaps 10. 

Templestay weekend experience: People can alternatively come for a weekend templestay experiential program like we did, from just before lunch on Saturday and leaving at 11:00 Sunday. W60,000/person but a preferred minimum of 20 participants is needed. Make reservations and send payment in full a few days prior to arrival.

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