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Kim Kyung and Her Hanji Collection: The Story of a Chamber Pot

Summer 2017
Summer 2017
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Dorothy Field prints drypoints and etchings on the stash of handmade paper she made over many years. In 1985, she spent a month in Kim Yeong Yon's mill. She returned to Korea to research hanji and its uses in 1988 and 1995. She is the author of Paper and Threshold (Legacy Press, 2007) about paper and its place in Asian culture. She has also had three books of poetry published in Canada where she makes her home. I met Kim Kyung in 1988. It turned out she had introduced Kim Yeong Yon, with whom I had studied papermaking in 1985, to his wife Yoon Soon Hee. The couple had been unerringly kind to me and to my nine-year-old daughter, plying her with popsicles while she waited for the Kim children to return from school. When Mr. Kim died in 1985, just as I was finishing my time with him, his wife Yoon Soon Hee called Kim Kyung and asked, "What do I do now?" Kim Kyung answered, "Make paper."  When I met Kim Kyung, she was 64 years old, a strong and rather imperious woman who had spent years collecting everything made from hanji, Korean handmade paper. Her apartment was full of old Korean chests and objets d'art. She also taught the traditional skills of jiseung, paper-cordage weaving; joomchi, paper felting; and the sewing of paper clothing, both traditional Korean and Western-style.

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he decided I was okay, not a simple matter. Being a foreigner made it easier. I was not part of the Korean hierarchy nor expected to follow proper protocol. She showed me many items from her col¬lection. One time she led me to a wooden chest and unwrapped, one by one, small wooden carvings. Her husband said she had never shown them to anyone before. Her "museum" was a room stuffed with objects made of hanji—among many things, chests, hat boxes, shoes, mats, and wallets. One of her treasures was a twined-paper wash basin for a gentleman traveller to gracefully dip water from a stream so he would not have to kneel down to wash his hands. Before I left, she struck a bell gong "to open your heart," she said, "and keep you safe on your journey." We stood silent until the rever¬berations died away. Then she dipped her thumb in sumi ink and inscribed a sort of talisman on a piece of hanji. That paper, darkened and foxed, still hangs in my studio. Kim Kyung collected paper objects as much for their stories as for their beauty and craftsmanship. She spoke of a twined and lac¬quered jiseung chamber pot with its own cover, made for a bride trav¬elling by sedan chair, often a full day's journey, to the village of her husband-to-be. If she needed to pee, the paper chamber pot would absorb the sound and ease her embarrassment.  The twining technique is thousands of years old, older than pot¬tery or standard weaving. In the jiseung technique, flat paper strips are twisted and plied in a continuous motion resulting in a tightly plied sturdy cord. These two-plied cords become the ribs of a bowl, while unplied twisted elements become the wefts, the horizontal rows. For a watertight basket, the wefts are snugged up against each other.1 Jiseung requires a great deal of time, physical stamina, and skill. Lacquering completes the waterproofing. When Kim Kyung heard of a prize paper object in some distant town, she would take off without telling her family, often for several days at a time. Acquiring the chamber pot "required 3 separate visits to a woman in Andong," explains colleague Aimee Lee.2 "She was so  persistent that the owner, who originally said it was a family heir¬loom and would not part with it, finally gave it up." Lee continues, "Whenever she heard of hanji objects, she would prepare by pack¬ing a blanket (since she would likely have to stay overnight), a car¬ton of cigarettes (a bribe), and a wad of cash. Many people only let her take things for the collection with the promise that she would never resell the objects."  I last saw Kim Kyung in 1995 on a visit to Seoul. Sometime later, she moved to Jejudo, a large island off Korea's south coast. If she is still alive, she would be 92, but suffering greatly from dementia.3 Kim Kyung collected hanji objects long before it was fashionable, with an astute love for a traditional culture fast disappearing. It is my hope that her collection remains intact and open to others who share her love and curiosity about old ways and the brilliance of Korean paper culture.  further reading Dorothy Field. "Kim Yeong Yon: A Korean Papermaker." Hand Papermaking vol. 2, no. 1 (Summer 1987): 10–14. Aimee Lee. Hanji Unfurled: One Journey into Korean Papermaking. Ann Arbor, Michigan: The Legacy Press, 2012.  Yoon Se-Yeong, "Kim Kyong's Collection of Ancient Paper Crafts." SEOUL: The Monthly Magazine of Korea Illustrated (September 1988): 36–39.   notes 1. See Aimee Lee's video of her jiseung teacher Na Seo-Hwan, (accessed December 17, 2016). The earliest pots were formed over twined baskets. One can see bits of basket fiber still clinging to them or the imprint of the basket weave in the clay. Twining differs from standard weaving in that two weft elements are twisted between each warp. 2. Aimee Lee, personal communication with the author, December 12, 2016. Kim Kyung wrote a book about her collection documented with photographs. The book's Korean title is Iyagiga itneun jongi bangmulgwan. The book has not been translated. Should someone be able to take this on, it would be a great service. For a copy of the book, see 3. Aimee Lee, personal communication with the author, December 12, 2016. field