Korea’s Charming Paper Collection at Hanji Culture and Industry Center
Has hanji paper always been this beautiful? A visit to the Hanji Culture and Industry Center gave us a fresh perspective on the traditional Korean handmade paper.
As can be understood through its name composed of Chinese characters, hanji is paper produced in Korea using a traditional manufacturing method. This, essentially, is the extent of what most people know about hanji. It would, however, be a shame to dismiss hanji as just that. Let’s go a little deeper inside the making of it. Hanji uses the bark of paper mulberry called Dak tree in Korean. The fibrous material gained from steamed mulberry bark gets mixed with a slimy mucus named Dakpul which is harvested from the roots of Abelmoschus manihot, a flowering plant. The mixture is strained through Bal and spread out on a flat surface. This completes a sheet of hanji, and alluding to the long, laborious process of hanji-making, the paper is nicknamed Baekji, with ‘baek’ meaning 100 touches. Although it is unclear when the first production of hanji occurred, it certainly took place well over 1,000 years ago. “The Great Dharani Sutra,” a Buddhist scripture printed on hanji around the 8th century, still remains in a supreme condition after over 1,200 years have passed, serving as a good example of the durability of hanji.
예로부터 고려지의 원산지로 유명한 전북 완주군에 조성된 대승한지마을. 이곳에서 전통 한지 제조 체험을 할 수 있다. © 사진 최형락, 한국공예디자인문화진흥원

Daeseung Hanji Village is located in Wanju, North Jeolla Province, famous as the original home of Goryeoji. There, you can try your hands on making traditional hanji. © Choi Hyung-rak, Korea Craft & Design Foundation

전주전통한지원 © 사진 최형락, 한국공예디자인문화진흥원

Jeonju Traditional Hanji Center © Choi Hyung-rak, Korea Craft & Design Foundation

충북 무형문화재 안치용 한지장이 이끄는 신풍한지의 아름다운 한지들 © 사진 최형락, 한국공예디자인문화진흥원

Beautiful hanji from Shinpoong Hanji, led by An Chi-yong, the hanji master craftsman and intangible cultural asset in North Chungcheong Province © Choi Hyung-rak, Korea Craft & Design Foundation

Anyone who was born and raised in Korea would have a chance to experience hanji while growing up. Schools offer calligraphy classes or art classes using hanji. The usage of hanji, however, far exceeds writing and drawing. Koreans have traditionally relied on hanji for living necessities such as window paper, wallpaper, folding fans and umbrellas. Hanji is a Korean handicraft with a thousand-year history and practicality. Now that we have talked about hanji, let’s go see it in person. There’s a place that allows you to see and touch almost all sorts of hanji produced in Korea. The Hanji Culture and Industry Center is Korea’s first-ever cultural complex with a focus on hanji and everything related to it. The recently-launched center provides a wide range of information regarding the Korean traditional paper and its history, while promoting the charms of hanji, which has been largely dismissed as old-fashioned and antiquated.
한지문화센터 지하 1층 ‘한지 소통공간’. 벽 한쪽에는 전통 한지 공방의 사진이 전시되어 있다.

‘Hanji Communication Space’ in the basement at Hanji Culture and Industry Center. Photos of traditional hanji craft studios are hung on the wall.

Korean Paper on Display at Bukchon
Bukchon is a symbolic place representing the coexistence of the past and present of Seoul. It is also where the ‘Hanji Culture and Industry Center’ is located. Occupying the basement and ground floor of a building, the center is laid out to accentuate its theme of hanji. The first floor is designated for exhibitions featuring some 400 designs of hanji from 19 hanji craft studios across the country and handicrafts made of those products. From ‘Multaeji’ using a sphagnum mixture and ‘Kkotjandiji’ featuring a pressed moss phlox to tie-dyed craft paper, the variety of hanji available at the center runs the whole gamut. Hundreds of hanji samples are categorized by region, usage, and paper type in the ‘hanji closet’ on a wall and on the ‘hanji table’ in the center of the room. To differentiate between the two, the latter carries uncut hanji sheets in the drawers. It is rare that we see hanji in its original state, which comes off as larger than expected and unfamiliar due to the exposed edge. By directly touching the hanji on the table and feeling its texture, you will come to an understanding that it requires more than just a visual approach to fully appreciate paper.
400여 종의 한지가 지역별·용도별·지종별로 분류된 1층 ‘한지 전시공간’의 ‘한지 벽장’.

‘Hanji Closet’ inside ‘Hanji Exhibition Space’ on the first floor, with 400 samples of hanji arranged by regions, usage and paper type.

쇼윈도 겸 전시 공간인 ‘한지 마루’

‘Hanji Maru,’ a show window and an exhibition space

흑백사진관 물나무 사진관의 사진 작품과 최수봉 부채 장인과 컬래버레이션 한 부채

Photos by the black-and-white photo studio Mulnamoo, and Korean hanji fans from a collaboration project with fan artisan Choi Su-bong

The back of the first floor is the ‘hanji maru’ functioning as a show window and exhibition space for newly-developed hanji products and design content. Currently being featured are the photographs printed on hanji by Mulnamoo, a studio specializing in black-and-white analog photographs, and traditional Korean hanji fans from a collaboration project involving fan artisan Choi Su-bong. The basement is set aside as the ‘hanji communication space’ that archives hanji-related materials and offers various programs promoting hanji including lectures, seminars, and workshops. As of now those who visit the Hanji Culture and Industry Center are mostly paper enthusiasts, paper artists, graphic designers and packaging designers who need hanji in their line of work or interest. After all, it is the first and only place in the country where you can find all kinds of hanji and compare them. The rest of the world just needs to realize that there is such a place in Seoul. Once they learn about it, they will surely find hanji interesting.
19개의 전통 한지 공방이 제작한 400여 종의 한지를 보고 만질 수 있다.

At Hanji Culture and Industry Center, you can see and touch 400 types of hanji produced by 19 hanji craft studios.

한지에 관한 모든 것을 모아놓은 우리나라 최초의 한지 관련 문화 공간이다.

The Hanji Culture and Industry Center is Korea’s first-ever cultural complex with a focus on hanji and everything related to it.

지상 1층과 지하 1층을 연결하는 계단 천장에는 한지 조명 오브제가 걸려 있다.

A hanji lighting objet hangs on ceilings on the stairwell connecting the first floor and the basement

각 공방의 특성이 반영된 19개의 공방 인장을 한지에 직접 찍어 볼 수 있다.

You can put stamps from 19 hanji craft studios, each displaying studios’ unique features, on pieces of hanji.

You may be a bit surprised to find an unexpectedly modern-yet-traditional appearance of the architecture of the center if you’ve been imagining a place that blends well with Bukchon and hanji. Architect and designer Lim Tae-hee was in charge of the layout and interior designs. Simple and elegant, the space resembles hanji. Lim also built all the furniture in the center. A hanji lighting objet hangs from the ceiling above the stairs connecting the basement and ground floors, while a hanji roof sits on top of the ‘hanji maru’ inspired by Korean traditional building elements such as ‘jeongja(pavilion)’ and ‘pyeongsang(low wooden bench).’ The video screen on the first floor is also made of hanji. The entire center is dedicated to showing how hanji can be used in a modern house or building. After the tour of the center is over, you will find yourself asking whether you can buy hanji on the spot. Of course, it would not be because you need to have hanji immediately. Sometimes, it is those that are of no use but beautiful enough to enrich your mind. Hanji has now joined the league.

Hanji being produced at a traditional hanji craft studio. The full video is available for viewing inside Hanji Exhibition Space on the first floor. © Video by Studio Pebs, Korea Craft & Design Foundation

한지문화산업센터 외관

View of Hanji Culture and Industry Center

Hanji Culture and Industry Center
Address 31-9 Bukchon-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Phone +82-2-741-6600
Hours Mon-Fri 09:00-18:00 (Admission by 17:30) Closed on weekends and holidays.
September 2020 Editor:Kim Hyewon
Photographer:Park Sungyoung

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  • September 2020
  • Editor: Kim Hyewon
  • Photographer: Park Sungyoung
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