Art of Dyeing Remains Alive And Doing Well

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Art of Dyeing Remains Alive And Doing Well

Recently, the Cultural Properties Administration recognized two craftsmen, Jung Gwan-chae and Yun Byeong-un, as intangible cultural assets. Mr. Jung, 42, and Mr. Yun, 80, are the masters of Korean traditional dyeing, which specializes in creating various shades of blue from jjok or indigo plants. It is an honor for both masters since they are the first to get such recognition in the field of dyeing. It is especially memorable for Mr. Jung since he is the first craftsman to earn the title intangible cultural asset at such an early age.

"It is an honor for me to be recognized after 23 years of effort," said Mr. Jung, "but I am more delighted about the fact that the government finally began to pay attention to traditional dyeing."

Mr. Jung is also an art teacher at Yeong San Po Middle School in Naju city, South Cholla province. He has been dyeing since 1978 when he became an art student at Mokpo University. At that time, he was fascinated by the natural deep blue color known as jjok-bit. He learned that it was hard to get such beautiful color anywhere but in Korea and decided to recreate the traditional Korean color.

Although the area around Naju and the Yeongsan River used to be major habitats for indigo plants, Mr. Jung had a hard time finding the seeds he needed to make the dye because the plants have nearly become extinct. The dominance of chemical dyes has meant not many people farm the plant anymore.

Even after he learned to grow his own indigo plants, he still had to learn the traditional method of extracting the dye from the plants. He turned to older people in the community for advice. "In the beginning, no one cared about natural colors," Mr. Jung said. "Some people even laughed at me for doing what they thought useless."

Last year, Mr. Jung was able to build a studio in the house where he was born and where he lives still.

He is now so well known that many visitors come to the studio to see his work. He also gets invitations from many colleges to give lectures on natural dyeing.

by Lee Hai-suk

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