Introducing “Hanji Unfurled” – The First English-Language Book on Korean Papermaking

The art of papermaking is virtually omnipresent throughout both Eastern and Western cultures, yet many of these traditions remain relatively unknown. So in an effort to combat the steady decline of these time-honored crafts, artist Aimee Lee has devoted herself to understanding and sharing the traditional paper arts of Korea. Recently, this research culminated in a 208 page hardback book that chronicles the importance and processes behind these persevering Korean crafts. Entitled Hanji Unfurled: One Journey into Korean Papermaking, the book is strewn with intimate interviews with Korean paper artists, explanations of their given art forms, and Lee’s personal anecdotes from these interactions abroad.

Sample book of dyed hanji

It’s important to note that the book is not just about papermaking. Rather it catalogues the variety of paper arts throughout Korea – including paper weaving, paper felting, natural dyeing, calligraphy, &c. Drawing on her experiences throughout her yearlong Fulbright Fellowship, Lee grants the reader direct access to the different creative values, personalities, and spaces of Korean paper artists from bustling city-centers to remote island outposts.

Mr. Shin forming a sheet of hanji in his studio

Though Hanji Unfurled is by nature a reference book, it is an extremely engaging, hands-on experience. As an artist, Lee partakes in each different paper craft, which makes for both evocative and insightful descriptions. For that reason in particular, this book is suited to those who are curious, creative, or both.

Be sure to check out the video trailer for the book above, as well as some book images in the gallery below. Similarly, if you are interested in getting (or giving) a copy of Hanji Unfurled, you can do so by clicking here. You can also find out more about Aimee Lee by visiting her artist website. There you can see works from her portfolio and learn more about her efforts to promote Korean papermaking in the United States (including her role in opening the first North American hanji center at the Morgan Conservatory in Cleveland Ohio).

Korean Jiseung Weaving

Image courtesy of Aimee Lee

Image courtesy of Aimee Lee

Perhaps one of the most esoteric art forms in the world, Jiseung (formerly known as Noyeokgae) denotes a process by which one creates functional three-dimensional objects through spinning and weaving strips of paper. It is an incredibly technical process which requires both a patient and well-practiced touch.

The paper of choice is hanji – or Korean paper made from the inner bark of Mulberry trees.   Having an unsurpassed tensile strength, hanji is perfect for Jiseung paper weavers who rely on such sturdiness to maintain the form and function of their work.

Image courtesy of Aimee Lee

Image courtesy of Aimee Lee

The paper is cut into long, thin strips and is then rolled by hand by the Jiseung master. One must pay close attention during this stage because irregular cords will affect the weaving process to come. After creating individual rolls, some masters take the extra step of spinning two of their strips together to create an even stronger thread. From there, the weaving begins.

Image courtesy of Aimee Lee

Image courtesy of Aimee Lee

Having completed the design, the entire piece is coated with a sticky rice glue to waterproof the vessel. If the paper is not dyed a desired color before the spinning process,  the vessel is often coated with several layers of naturally derived sap lacquer. Once everything dries up, the end result is a completely handmade, functional, & beautiful piece of Korean craftsmanship.

If you’re interested in learning more about the process, or anything related to Korean paper-making, you can find out more from Aimee Lee’s website. You can also see more images of the process below.

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