Friday, June 19, 2015

The Art of Maedeup, Korean Ornamental Knotwork

Mrs. Young Ae Lee twists and crosses strings to make the dahoe (cord)
After attending a Royal Wedding ceremony reenactment at the Unhyeongung Palace in Seoul, I stopped for a few minutes in one of the buildings which had an exhibit. Here I met Mrs. Young Ae Lee who is a master of maedeup, an ornamental knotwork of Korea. Literally meaning "knot" in Korean, maedeup utilizes one type of fiber and its finished piece is both symmetrical from side to side and the same on both back and front.
A type of maedeup is a norigae, which comprises of the knotwork, tassle, and ornament. The ornament may be made from precious metals or stones, such as gold, silver, bronze, jade, amber, coral, pearl, or malachite. One's status or importance could traditionally be ascertained according to the size, shape, materials and colors of their norigae. Although natural-dyed silk was used for more expensive pieces, even simpler pieces could be enhanced through embroidery. Norigae are often attached to the jacket of a hanbok, the traditional dress of Korea. Typical of many forms of Korean art, nature was a popular theme. Knots, for example, were made in the forms such as lotus buds, plum blossoms, chrysanthemums, butterflies, bees, and dragonflies. Ornaments included animals such as the bat or tortoise, as well as butterflies, plants (i.e. grapes, peonies), or household objects (i.e. gourds, drums, locks, bells). Symbolism was attached to these ornaments, such as a pepper for a prosperous marriage, a peach for longevity, or tiger claws to repel evil spirits.

Although Mrs. Lee originally learned to do maedeup from her family, she has also refined the craft by incorporating aspects discerned in historical research. Hoping to keep the craft alive (fewer people are learning the skill), Mrs. Lee regularly exhibits her work and teaches others. For others continuing the craft, demand is mostly limited into either high art or for accessories. Future generations may likely need to adapt further in order to survive.

When seeing Mrs. Lee at her maedeup instrument machine, it reminded me of the traditional lace-making I saw in Bruges. To the untrained eye, it looked like haphazard twisting of spools of thread. I hope to revisit this art form at a later time when I have a bit more time and can see more of the design emerge.

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