[LETTERS to the editor]Traditional crafts can still flourishI was saddened but not surprised by your June 12th article “As Korean crafts die out . . .” Last year, I attempted to buy a newly made traditional Korean horse-hair hat, or gat. We visited several places that make hanboks for advice, but didn’t have any luck. Eventually, we were told that my goal was no longer possible because the last master of the craft had died. All we could find were plastic imitations, many made in China. What a tragic end for such an accomplished art!
Yet it is not inevitable that ancient arts and crafts should perish. Indeed, they can flourish and meet the needs of the modern world, provided there is some enlightened and entrepreneurial support. One need only look to France, where two of the world’s leading luxury brands, Louis Vuitton and Hermes, have helped keep alive a French tradition of excellence in leatherwork. The Venetian island of Murano also excels today in handmade glassware, just as it did in the 13th century.
In my own country, England, many traditional crafts died in the 19th century as the country was transformed from a traditional agricultural society to an industrial powerhouse. A comparable transformation has been underway in South Korea for only the last 40 years and so many traditional crafts, though threatened, still survive. Those who might wonder if there could indeed be a market for products based on old Korean traditions need only visit one of the rare Sotheby’s sales of Korean artifacts in New York. The interest, and the prices paid, are truly surprising. How could the opportunity be realized? It is only necessary to apply the skills of the past to the needs of the modern world, and to do so with uncompromising quality and a true appreciation of their innate value. That, plus some marketing expertise, could ensure that one day there are Korean global brands in more fields than automobiles and electronics.
by David Kilburn