Make your own crafts in AndongANDONG, North Gyeongsang ― Normally a quiet place year-round, this small city of 182,000 is bustling with tourists ahead of mask and craft art festivals, which have become the trademarks of the town.
The annual Andong Mask Dance Festival and Andong Folklore Festival usually come at the end of September and run until mid-October, introducing traditional dances and ceramic arts from inside and outside Korea. According to Andong city officials, at this time of the year the city gets over 70 percent of its annual tourist flow of one million people.
However, for a long time, the city was missing something important as a home of traditional crafts ― a place to exhibit crafts year-round. A union of craftsman here had emphasized the need for such a facility for a long time, but the city refused saying an annual festival was sufficient, and that the city budget was limited.
However, the birthday visit by Queen Elizabeth II to Hahoe Village in 1999 helped the craftsmen to persuade the city officials of the importance of Andong’s artistic reputation. Since the queen’s visit the number of foreign tourists has increased ―most recently by 4 percent in 2005 compared to 2003.
This is particularly significant considering that in the same period, other cities in North Gyeongsang province lost tourists. Gyeongju, a major site for traditional relics, saw a 9 percent decrease in foreign tourists in the same period.
The Andong craftsmen had said that a crafts exhibition hall where tourists could watch the process of making crafts and try their own hand at clay modeling would help the city attract more visitors. Their pleas were finally answered after six years, and last month the facility was opened.
The two-story building called the Andong Craftswork Culture Exhibition Hall is near Andong Dam, which is located between City Hall and the train station. On the first floor, works by professional craftsmen are on display. On the second floor, a workshop for tourists enables visitors to make ceramic miniatures, paper artworks and try their hand at cloth-dyeing.
On a recent weekend, a group of craftsmen stood welcoming tourists as they waited to enter the workshop.
Lee Hui-bok is the proud artist who heads the exhibition hall. “A travel agency just booked a group of 100 foreigners to visit the ceramic workshop,” he boasted.
Chung Tae-ho, one of the six expert craftsmen and an instructor there, said the facility is greatly beneficial. He is pleased to teach visitors and the environment allows him to concentrate on making ceramic works ― in the past he was forced to use empty lots and abandoned buildings to work on his projects.
by Lee Min-a