Inlaying techniques in Korean craft

Peter Corbishley digests the discussion on Korean crafts at the KCC on 2 Dec

Korean porcelain, jewellery, religious artefacts and patchwork is distinguished by inlay using different materials. While inlay techniques might be a common feature of Korean crafts, however, they are not uniquely Korean. The techniques of jewellery making, for example, may well not be unique considering for example granulation on pendants or earrings where the same techniques are found much earlier in Greek or middle eastern culture.

However the skills and attention to detail in the use of inlay in Korea through the centuries whether with mother of pearl, tortoiseshell, amber, white slip, black slip, black oxide, red pointer, bronze, copper, silver, gold on lacquer, silver, bronze or porcelain are unique and distinctive.

The quality is surprising given the seemingly low status of craftspeople in the traditional Korean society of the Chosun period. A member of the audience suggested that the skills of these crafts might not be being passed on now in South Korea, but the technical specialisation found in the construction of Korean mobile phones for example, (the inlay on computer chips?) may well be in continuity with the attention to detail found in Korean inlay.

All this, with some reflections on the influence of Korean inlay among her artistic friends whether Korean or not, was displayed and claimed by Pak Youngsook at the Korean Cultural Centre on Tuesday 2nd December 2008 as she weaved her own red pointer inlay across a power point presentation in an over darkened room which could too easily be conducive to nodding off.

2 thoughts on “Inlaying techniques in Korean craft

  1. I’m with you on the nodding off. This is the second talk I’ve been to at the KCC which I’ve found disappointing, and both have involved learned academics talking in a rather rambling fashion about an overlong slide show. I confess, I did nod off occasionally, and when I stopped dozing I found that we had overshot the finish time by 15 minutes and still no end was in sight.

    There were some extremely beautiful things on show, but the delivery and structure left a lot to be desired. And did we need so many slides? There were four or five slides of pots produced by the former Japanese prime minister, when one would have done.

    Boy, was I needing a drink afterwards. The worst thing was not knowing where we were in the talk, where it was headed, and how many more slides there were to go. If I’d known that it was only going to be another 15 minutes, or even half an hour, that would have been just about bearable. It was the NOT knowing that made it so hard.

    The saving grace in terms of structure was that we opened with a suggestion that Baekche or Silla gold design might have been influenced by Scythian nomads straying eastwards (though north of the Silk Road), and closed with the connection that Yo Yo Ma commissioned some indigo pojagi from some American students of a Korean craftsman, Indigo apparently coming from Afghanistan (though I thought that country was known for its aquamarine, not its indigo) which is on the Silk Road. A tenuous link. But at least once Professor Pak had made the link we knew the lecture was over.

    I didn’t quite follow how we got from inlaid gold, bronze, ceramics and lacquer to thrifty women making pojagi. We could happily have lost 20 minutes of the talk by axing the stuff about textiles, but then we wouldn’t have had the Silk Road connection to finish off with.

    I know, however, that there were members of the audience who relished every minute of the talk, so maybe I just don’t like slide shows. They remind me of too many dull Boxing Day afternoons.

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