Guardian of hope: Preserving the sotdae
The sotdae came from the Samhan era about 2,000 years ago from the sacred region known as Sodo.
Sotdae were placed at the entrances of villages to wish for peace and good harvests. In Joseon times (1392-1910), when someone passed the gwageo, or state examination, they would set up a sotdae in front of the house or an ancestor’s tomb to celebrate.
As a symbol of dreams and the sky, sotdae have been revived in modern architecture by Yoon Young-ho. Yoon, a sculptor and the director of the Neungang Sotdae Art Museum in Jecheon, North Chungcheong, is Korea’s only sotdae artist.
Inspired, Yoon met famous experts in folk culture and history, learning all he could about the tradition. Eventually, he quit his role as the museum director and started producing sotdae by himself in Pangyo, Gyeonggi.
But unlike Kwon’s paintings of sotdae, Yoon decided to learn how to make the real thing. Some people thought he was crazy for considering a bird on a stick to be art, but he persisted and put all of his energy into learning the tradition.
Yoon’s sotdae are extraordinary for their natural forms. No part of the tree is trimmed or carved; the pieces of the tree are used in their natural forms, with several pieces of wood combined to form simple forms. The bark is removed and the wood is merely covered with a finish. Yoon’s sotdae are highly valued because each is unique and harmonious with nature.
There are about 400 sotdae on display at the Neungang Sotdae Art Museum, which gets 50,000 visitors each year. Even the environment around the museum is a work of art, as it includes rare wildflowers, a walking path through a pine grove and an observatory platform. There is also a place where visitors can make sotdae of their own.
Every April, the museum holds the Hope Festival, featuring the lucky, traditional carvings that help people’s hopes and wishes come true. The festival includes a variety of events, such as sending postcards, creating sotdae and making wishes by hanging hope cards.
The sotdae tradition was recognized at the 2004 International Council of Museums, which was held in Korea, and was made the official symbol of the conference.
In order to produce sotdae that can last, Yoon also makes them out of bronze these days. Above all, he is happy that his son has also become a creator of sotdae and intends to succeed his father.
By Park Sang-moon[firstname.lastname@example.org]