중앙데일리

Expert carpenter can see the trees for the woods

The Gwanghwamun restoration director’s painstaking hunt for the perfect materials

Oct 13,2008
Shin Eung-su. By Park Jong-keun
A true artisan carpenter will comb a mountainside for up to four days just to find one suitable tree that can be used to build the eaves of a well-made hanok, a traditional Korean house. And when he finally finds it, he behaves with proper decorum by wearing clean and tidy clothes before cutting it down.

“I wanted to show people what wooden structures are like and what kinds of trees we use before the Gwanghwamun restoration project kicks off,” said Shin Eung-su, 66, executive director of the Gwanghwamun restoration project, which is slated for completion by summer 2010.

“This exhibition will provide them an exclusive and exciting opportunity to see firsthand the raw materials used for building a palace.”

The exhibition, titled “Old Palace and New Royal Palace” currently being held at the Heungryemun gallery in Gyeongbok Palace in central Seoul, is Shin’s production.

It is his first exhibition in his 50-year carpentry career. Shin is regarded as one of the greatest carpenters in the country today, so much so that he’s been designated Intangible Cultural Asset No. 74.

In an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo at the exhibition hall on Oct. 3, Shin talked about the timber that will be used in restoring the Gwanghwamun gate.

“Those wooden pillars and girders you see right inside the gallery are all derived from a pine tree that I cut down at a rugged valley near Daegwallyeong, Gangwon, in autumn last year,” Shin said.

The pine tree, with a girth as thick as a man’s arm, was more than 200 years old, Shin added.

“We usually use pine trees aged 150-300 years for building a palace. There are many kinds of trees in the world, but none as suitable for building a palace as pine trees because their resin makes the timber last longer,” Shin explained.

The most eye-catching item in the exhibition is the highest pillar currently on show, which will eventually be located in the interior of the restored Gwanghwamun gate.

Its grandeur is well represented by its size and weight - 9.18 meters (30.1 feet) in length, 61 centimeters in diameter and over 3 tons in weight.

“Trees on the streets that have a lot of twigs are no good. To obtain a good pine tree, one has to go deep in a mountain. I doubt there is a person who has crossed Daegwallyeong in Gangneung and Yangyang as many times as I have,” Shin said.

“Finding a good tree is not the end. I have to go up and down a mountain three or four times if I want to cut it down, which requires permission from the authorities.”

As for the protruding corners of the eaves, well curved pine trees best express the beauty of the natural curved line of the eaves, according to Shin.

“In fact, it is harder to find a well curved pine tree suitable for the upturned corners of eaves than to find a straight one for pillars. So when I discover one, it’s like a lucky strike,” said Shin.

“Old Palace and New Royal Palace” will be on display through Oct. 31.


By Joo Jung-wan JoongAng Ilbo [spark0320@joongang.co.kr]


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