Unlock the charms of everyday itemCombination locks, door locks, car locks. To most people, locks are essential, but they’re about as exciting as processed cheese.
That’s probably because you can’t remember the last time you inserted a key in a lock shaped as a fish, tortoise or watermelon.
An item many of us overlook in our daily affairs now gets some measure of respect in a rusty, orange-colored building behind Marronier Park in northern Seoul. At Soetdae, Korea’s first lock museum, curators have amassed an eclectic collection of nearly 3,000 locks, of which 300 are displayed at a time on a rotating basis.
While much of the selection is given over to locks of Korean origin, with items from the Joseon, Silla and Goryeo dynasties, those originating from medieval Europe, Africa, Tibet and elsewhere are also included.
Besides their mundane purpose of, well, locking things, locks have served as amulets of sorts for Koreans. For example, fish- and tortoise-shaped locks expressed their owners’ wishes for a long life, supposedly because these animals live so long.
Some old locks were marked with Chinese characters that translate into wishes for prosperity and longevity. Another item of note is a key charm, which a Korean mother traditionally passed down to her daughter when she married. When the younger woman’s daughter married, the charm was again handed down, along with specially made coins. Such charms for women were often attractive and decorated with good-luck creatures.
In March, Soetdae will hold a special exhibit on the life of metalsmiths. “I think that the life of a person is wrapped in a metalsmith’s tools,” said Choi Hong-gyu, the museum’s curator and a hardware store owner. “It is the life of our forefathers.
“Whenever I fashion ironware with fire, I feel its power and strength,” Mr. Choi continued. He hopes the exhibit allows children who are used to instant gratification “come to recognize the power of warm, soft and strong iron” and, in the process, learn about patience.
The collection was donated by Park Jeong-ja and Yoon Suk-hwa, two famous Korean actresses; the name “Soetdae,” which means “lock,” came from Beopjeong, a Buddhist priest. Mr. Choi said the performers have helped others who are interested in creating their own private museum.
Soetdae Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily except the Lunar New Year and Chuseok holidays. Admission is 5,000 won. Directions: Take subway line No. 4 to Hyehwa Station, exit 2. It is located behind the National Institute of International Education Development.
by Chung Jae-suk
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