Literally translated, baecheop means to attach clothes to something. In practice, baecheop refers to an artistic technique that consists of mounting paintings and calligraphic works on scrolls, frames or screens to store them and put them into practice. The method dates back to the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).
Jeong Chan-jeong, 62, is a baecheopjang, or a master craftsman of the mounting technique, who has devoted 45 years of his life to the art of baecheop. He is currently the head of the JangHwang research on cultural heritage in Yeongdeungpo district, west of Seoul.
Born in Hwasun-gun, South Jeolla, Jeong was unable to continue his education beyond middle school due to his family’s financial situation. Desperate to earn a living, in 1976, 17-year-old Jeong went to Seoul to stay and work with his older brother.
Her brother, who was eight years older, worked in a pyogusa or assembly shop at Insa-dong in Jongno District, central Seoul.
Insa-dong was a neighborhood where ancient and contemporary art galleries coexisted, and where pyogusa flourished, emphasizing poetry and calligraphy. The heyday of stores, which began in the late 70s, continued into the 90s.
Although piogu is a Japanese term that has the same meaning as baecheop, it is often more familiar to Koreans because many Japanese-ruled pyogusa appeared in Korea during the colonial period (1910-45). Therefore, most of the terms used in the field of baecheop are of Japanese origin.
Jeong’s relief and happiness at starting to work at his brother’s company was short-lived.
To learn the skills of the trade, he had to undergo a strict apprenticeship. Serving under his brother, Jeong cleaned his store, cooked, made the glue paste used for baecheop, and ran simple errands.
He was sometimes beaten when his tasks were not done properly and had to sleep on work tables in the workshop. He never dreamed of being paid.
On a snowy winter day, Jeong had a near-death experience after being poisoned with carbon monoxide. The gas produced by heating the cement floors with charcoal briquettes had leaked out and Jeong had inhaled it while he slept. The next morning he went up to his roof to cook and a sudden gust of cold air gave him a headache. He recovered shortly after someone found him on the roof and gave him something to drink.
For three long years, Jeong didn’t learn anything about baecheop. But he didn’t let go, and in his late twenties, Jeong began learning baecheop skills while working at various pyogusa.
In 1987, an opportunity to have a steady job in baecheop came when his brother went to work at a contemporary art museum in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi, and left his pyogusa, named Chagabang, in Jeong.
Jeong spent the next 30 years and five months operating Chagabang, which paved the way for him to become one of Korea’s most prestigious baecheop artisans.
In 1990, he obtained a license certifying him as a qualified repairer of cultural property.
Jeong began to feel that his work was worthwhile when he discovered the mentality and knowledge of his ancestors and realized that he could safely pass these qualities on to future generations.
And for the first time in his life, Jeong decided that he would do baecheop not only to earn a living, but also to keep traditional Korean culture alive.
To focus more on baecheop, he ended his life in Insa-dong in October 2015 and moved to Singil-dong in Yeongdeungpo District, west of Seoul, where he established the JangHwang Research of Cultural Heritage. .
The institute is dedicated to the preservation and repair of state-designated cultural heritages, provincially designated cultural heritages, and private cultural properties. Jeong devotes himself body and soul to paper-based cultural assets, such as paintings and calligraphic works, together called Seohwathousands of years old, and gwaebullarge scroll paintings of Buddhist deities.
In order to perfectly restore and preserve cultural property, Jeong receives advice from professional cultural property experts. Most cultural property on paper is wrinkled or torn and has been damaged by insects, humidity and mold.
Restoring these works to be as close to their original forms as possible is a painstaking process, but Jeong never dares to simply fix the function or exterior of the assets.
It works to perfection and avoids errors or shortcomings by basing its restoration on historical research and scientific analyzes carried out by committees of experts in cultural property.
Today, there are countless cultural works that have been repaired and restored by Jeong.
His works are known to be incredibly reliable in the industry. He has worked for facilities across the country, including the Kyujanggak Institute of Korean Studies, the National Palace Museum of Korea, the Korea Foundation for Cultural Heritage Protection, and the Seoul Museum of History. His works and his reputation are the result of his passion and the sweat and tears shed for baecheop during his life.
Bringing precious cultural assets back to life through baecheop, it is thanks to artisans like Jeong that traditional Korean culture is still flourishing.
Although he works day and night and trains students at the Korea National University of Cultural Heritage, Jeong seems content with his two children running the family business.
BY SANG-MOON PARK [[email protected]]