Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Lee Sang-geun, UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage No. 42

Lee Sang-geun is a traditional comb design artist, and a perfectionist. His painstaking work has been recognized since 2000 as having outstanding cultural significance and since that year he has continued to be recognized and awarded for keeping to tradition and exquisitely hand-carving wooden combs of various designs.
2010 - appointed as Wood Comb Master (Intangible Cultural Heritage No. 42)
2007 (October) - awarded certification for excellence in handicrafts by UNESCO
2007 (Nov) - invited by UN headquarters to hold an exhibition
2003 - appointed as a successor of Korean handicrafts (wood combs)
2003 - appointed as a successor of Korean ethnically special crafts
2002 - appointed as a successor of cultural tradition (No. 51) by Chungcheongnam-do
2000 (January) - published in National Geographic

A shop in Insadong is hosting a special exhibition with many spectacular works of art created by Lee Sang-geun. Normally people aren't allowed to take pictures of heritage artwork, but I explained to the lady running the shop that I am an anthropologist and write on things Korean, and then asked if I could spread the word about this incredible Intangible Cultural Heritage artist. (Intangible Cultural Heritage artist is also informally known as Living Cultural Heritage, confusing when trying to do accurate web research.) She allowed me to take a few pictures, and being thankful that she so graciously did so, I only took pictures of the combs, since that is what Lee Sang-geun is most famous for. 

However, he's a master carver of fans and other intricate art forms as well. In the shop he had on display spectacularly and intricately carved fans, which he had also hand-painted. Each fan represented multiple hours of work and one was valued at nearly a million won, as it should be! It was truly a masterpiece! 

With permission I share the following representative comb masterpieces:

Very old-style comb used by men and women after they had tied their hair in knots. The comb was then dragged through the tight hair, arranging each hair to lie smoothly with the rest. With the cutting of hair and hair not being pulled back into knots, these types of combs quickly went out of fashion.
A simple yet perfectly carved comb. Inscribed with Chinese and signed by the artist.
One of my favorite pieces in the shop - intricate giant lily pads carved with birds. Imagine the skill needed to carve such delicate detail and to create such rough texture for background and smooth foreground objects. This represents one of Lee Sang-geun's most unique carving styles!
So many combs on display. These particular ones were still priced at a couple hundred thousand won each, while the more intricately carved ones like the lily pads and birds above could be twice the amount.
Traditional decoration for the home. The eight-sided object represents the emperor (in Confucian times) while the fish symbolizes good luck and the string longevity. 

And a unique, non-traditional but fun idea - the traditional yutnori game played with, not the traditional sticks, but acorn-shaped wood pieces. I guess Lee Sang-geun wanted to put something for even the younger generation in his craft repertoire.

No comments:

Post a Comment