Han Seon-hak, Director of the Museum of Ancient Asia Woodblock Prints has dedicated 30 years of his life to introducing the approximately 6,000 ancient woodblock artifacts he has collected from across Asia. He communicates with citizens through various ancient woodblock printing exhibitions and training pro-grams. As the only museum of its kind in Korea, the Museum of Ancient Asia Woodblock Prints has become the venue for training and nurturing the creativity of people. Let’s explore Han’s life and the museum.

From Collecting Ancient Woodblock Prints to the Opening of a World-renowned Printing Museum

The Museum of Ancient Asia Woodblock Prints, the only museum of its kind in Korea, sits at the foot of Chiaksan Mountain in Wonju at 600 m above sea level. “The Museum of Ancient Asia Woodblock Prints is a small but valuable museum that I established after I had gathered ancient woodblocks from different Asian countries (including China and India) for the past 30 years.” Director Han Seon-hak is also the chief monk at Myeongjusa Temple located next to the museum. He became interested in ancient woodblocks a long time ago. While studying Buddhist art at Dongguk University, Han passed an exam to become a commissioned officer in 1978 and became a Buddhist monk of Naksansa Temple. Later he served 15 years in the army as a Buddhist monk. In 1996, he belatedly realized the value of a porcelain Buddhist statue he had bought during his pilgrimage to China. That’s how he opened his eyes to the world of collection. He later began collecting artifacts from Tibet, Mongolia, Korea, and Japan as well as China.

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He also combed through antique shops in Insa-dong, Janghanpyeong, Dapsimni, and Cheonggyecheon in Seoul. In 1998, he left the army and opened Myeongjusa Temple on Chiaksan Mountain. In 2003, he opened the Museum of Ancient Asia Woodblock Prints. The museum currently exhibits approximately 6,000 ancient woodblock artifacts collected from across Asia. Among them are seven cultural heritages designated by Gangwon-do, and major ancient woodblock relics including the woodblock of Oryunhaengsildo (An Illustrated Guide to the Five Moral Imperatives), which was previously split and abused as a decoration for a traditional Japanese sunken heart. Thanks to these valuable artifacts, the museum has gained a lot of attention as a world-renowned printing museum.

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Museums Are a Source of Creativity and Content

“Woodblock prints are both the beginning and the epitome of printing culture. For instance, picture books originated from Chinese scriptures which were made by woodblock printing. With its strong design aspect, woodblock printing can be applied to various areas in modern times with its infinite content. Woodblock prints reflect the features of printing and pictures alike, where the picture is created using an engraved woodblock.

In this regard, the Museum of Ancient Asia Woodblock Prints can effectively communicate with the public, who are accustomed to both pictures and print, says Han. Up to now, museums have mainly focused on archaeology or art history, but nowadays several museums have shifted their focus to education and management to diversify their operation. To follow this trend, Han enrolled in a doctorate course for museum education at the graduate school of Hanyang University when he was 50 and received his doctorate degree in just three years. There have been a lot of twists and turns on his career path, but he finds his life worth living since he loves his work, as he previously said, “You need to go crazy over something to truly enjoy it.”
“A museum is another school where creativity can be nurtured. In this regard, our museum runs training programs under the theme of woodblock prints in order to communicate with citizens and contribute to the development of regional cultural tourism.” Han has run various education programs and held about 30 exhibitions. Thanks to his efforts, he received the Cultural Heritage Administration’s Award in 2012 as well as the Ministry of Culture Sports and Tourism’s Award in 2018. Han aims to develop the museum into a community-based museum that is “alive” and constantly communicating with citizens. It is expected that his path will become a major milestone in the development of Korean museums.

What do you think is the charm of ancient woodblock prints, and why should we pay attention to the ancient technique again in this modern era?

Woodblock prints are both pictures and prints, combining both art and the printing industry. Before advanced printing technologies were developed, woodblock printing was one of the most popular art form and channel for mass entertainment. It was also used by ordinary citizens to make talisman wishes for longevity, luck and health. The essence of traditional Buddhist and Confucian thoughts was summarized into pictures and were printed and distributed to many people through woodblock printing. This ancient technique was also applied to neunghwapan (woodblocks that were used to print the cover of ancient books), letter papers frequently used by noblemen, as well as talismans that ordinary citizens usually carried with them. Furthermore, novels including the Three Kingdoms and Water Margin; Confucian texts including Yongbieocheonga (Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven) and Samganghaengsildo (An Illustrated Guide to the Three Bonds); as well as Byeonsangdo (illustrations of major Buddhism theories) included woodblock prints. In particular, pictures made with ancient Korean woodblock printing boast superb beauty with delicate lines. In this regard, ancient woodblock printing can become the method for reproducing tradition and creating modernity. I believe ancient woodblock printing has indefinite potential as can be seen from Japan’s Ukiyo-e (a genre of Japanese art which flourished from the 17th through 19th centuries) that significantly affected the European art world.

Please explain the role of museums in education.

I think museums are like a school to nurture creativity. Museums in other countries are already evolving into educational institutions, putting a priority on their role in education, beyond simple exhibitions or preservation of relics. In this regard, we now need to pay attention to the potential of museums as educational institutions.
Furthermore, developing museums into cultural and art educational institutions for life-long education in the community will promote balanced educational development in Korea. In particular, I frequently emphasize that museums are the power station for creativity.

Creation comes from imitation, and museums have abundant resources that can give inspiration. Therefore, if people frequently visit museums and get inspired, this will accumulate into potential resources and ignite creativity someday. The Museum of Ancient Asia Woodblock Prints is a treasure house where more than 100 thousand design ideas can be generated. Indeed, the museum runs various programs including “Woodblock Printing School in the Forest” and the “Culture Day” events. In addition, the museum has also developed “free-semester (exam-free semester)” programs for middle school students to nurture their creativity. Thanks to these activities, the museum was selected as a museum that provides outstanding museum education at the Museum Education Expo held in 2018, and the museum received the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism Award as a result.

What do you think is the significance of the Museum of Ancient Asia Woodblock Prints as a cultural tourism content?

The Museum of Ancient Asia Woodblock Prints sits at the foot of Chiaksan Mountain at 600 m above sea level and is surrounded by superb nature. This ideal location itself is sufficient to make the museum a great tourism resource. In addition, the museum has consistently played its role as being a source of education and creativity. The museum will be holding the 10th Wonju World Woodblock Prints Festival this year. For the festival, the museum annually invites woodblock printing masters from China, Vietnam, and other countries and hold demonstrations. The museum also holds conferences by inviting renowned scholars from foreign countries. I believe all this contributes to creating cultural tourism content. People visit the museum from across the globe to see valuable relics exhibited here even though the museum is located in a remote area in Wonju. In this regard, I am confident that the museum holds significance as a cultural tourism content. Furthermore, as I was chosen by the KTO as a local celebrity of 2019, I will put more diverse efforts into the sustainable development of regional tourism resources.

PROGRAMS

Woodblock Printing Tour in the Forest Along with a Local Celebrity

This 2-day woodblock printing tour is a combination of a cultural experience program and a temple stay where participants can experience culture, nature and meditation. When beginning the program, participants choose the woodblock design they want and then print it on a T-shirt they will be wearing during the program. They will join the ancient woodblock printing activity program and tour the museum along with a curator on the 1st day. The next day, participants will take part in a meditation session, take a walk through the valley, and create traditional Korean books to experience various types of printing.

  • Admission:
    • 60,000 won per person for groups of 20 or more/ 70,000 won per person for groups of less than 20
Tour of The Museum of Ancient Asia Woodblock Prints

The Museum of Ancient Asia Woodblock Prints exhibits ancient woodblock prints from Asian countries including Korea, China, Japan, Tibet, Mongolia and India. Tourists can browse the relics while listening to explanations by Director Han or a curator. Furthermore, visitors can join an activity program run by the museum and experience the joy of making woodblocks themselves.

1-day Activity Programs

You can apply for individual activity programs without joining the temple stay if you don’t have enough time to stay overnight. In addition, there is a space at the corner of the museum where one can have hands-on woodblock printing experiences. Visitors can print ancient woodblocks themselves here.

  • Admission:
    • Making woodblocks (drawing, carving and printing)/ 1 hour and 30 minutes / 15,000 won
    • Making traditional books / 1 hour / 15,000 won
    • Printing ancient book cover patterns / 30 minutes / Adults 5,000 won

RECOMMENDED TOURIST ATTRACTIONS

Gangwon Gamyeong (Gangwon Province Administration Building)

Han says the printing culture developed in Wonju thanks to Gangwon Gamyeong, or the Gangwon Province Administration Building. During the Joseon Dynasty, local administration offices were in charge of printing and distributing books to local Confucian schools and other places. In Wonju, Gangwon Gamyeong handled the administrative tasks of Gangwon-do during the Joseon Dynasty, including the task of printing books. The 500-year history of the Joseon Dynasty is kept alive in the administrative building. In addition, the building structure remains intact, a rare case among historic sites located in the downtown area. The building itself is a valuable asset where one can learn about ancient administrative buildings.

  • Address:
    • 85, Wonil-ro, Wonju-si, Gangwon-do
  • Tel.
    • 033-737-4767
Museum SAN

Museum SAN is designed by Ando Tadao, a renowned architect known for minimalism, and is surrounded by a magnificent land-scape. The museum exhibits works by Jame Turrell, an artist widely known for his explorations of light and space. The museum boasts a perfect harmony with its architecture and arts while encompassed by beautiful nature. Museum SAN holds significance as a printing culture tourism content where visitors can see a variety of exhibits created under the theme of paper as well as analog culture.

  • Address:
    • 260, Oak valley 2-gil Jijeong-myeon, Wonju-si, Gangwon-do
    • Tel.
      • 033-730-9000
      • Website:
        • Time:
          • 10:00–18:00 (Ticket booth closed at 17:00)
        • Admission:
          • Adults 18,000 won

PROGRAMS

Tour of The Museum of Ancient Asia Woodblock Prints

The Museum of Ancient Asia Woodblock Prints exhibits ancient woodblock prints from Asian countries including Korea, China, Japan, Tibet, Mongolia and India. Tourists can browse the relics while listening to explanations by Director Han or a curator. Furthermore, visitors can join an activity program run by the museum and experience the joy of making woodblocks themselves.

Woodblock Printing Tour in the Forest Along with a Local Celebrity

This 2-day woodblock printing tour is a combination of a cultural experience program and a temple stay where participants can experience culture, nature and meditation. When beginning the program, participants choose the woodblock design they want and then print it on a T-shirt they will be wearing during the program. They will join the ancient woodblock printing activity program and tour the museum along with a curator on the 1st day. The next day, participants will take part in a meditation session, take a walk through the valley, and create traditional Korean books to experience various types of printing.

  • Admission:
    • 60,000 won per person for groups of 20 or more/ 70,000 won per person for groups of less than 20
1-day Activity Programs

You can apply for individual activity programs without joining the temple stay if you don’t have enough time to stay overnight. In addition, there is a space at the corner of the museum where one can have hands-on woodblock printing experiences. Visitors can print ancient woodblocks themselves here.

  • Admission:
    • Making woodblocks (drawing, carving and printing)/ 1 hour and 30 minutes / 15,000 won
    • Making traditional books / 1 hour / 15,000 won
    • Printing ancient book cover patterns / 30 minutes / Adults 5,000 won

RECOMMENDED TOURIST ATTRACTIONS

Gangwon Gamyeong (Gangwon Province Administration Building)

Han says the printing culture developed in Wonju thanks to Gangwon Gamyeong, or the Gangwon Province Administration Building. During the Joseon Dynasty, local administration offices were in charge of printing and distributing books to local Confucian schools and other places. In Wonju, Gangwon Gamyeong handled the administrative tasks of Gangwon-do during the Joseon Dynasty, including the task of printing books. The 500-year history of the Joseon Dynasty is kept alive in the administrative building. In addition, the building structure remains intact, a rare case among historic sites located in the downtown area. The building itself is a valuable asset where one can learn about ancient administrative buildings.

  • Address:
    • 85, Wonil-ro, Wonju-si, Gangwon-do
  • Tel.
    • 033-737-4767
Museum SAN

Museum SAN is designed by Ando Tadao, a renowned architect known for minimalism, and is surrounded by a magnificent land-scape. The museum exhibits works by Jame Turrell, an artist widely known for his explorations of light and space. The museum boasts a perfect harmony with its architecture and arts while encompassed by beautiful nature. Museum SAN holds significance as a printing culture tourism content where visitors can see a variety of exhibits created under the theme of paper as well as analog culture.

  • Address:
    • 260, Oak valley 2-gil Jijeong-myeon, Wonju-si, Gangwon-do
    • Tel.
      • 033-730-9000
      • Website:
        • Time:
          • 10:00–18:00 (Ticket booth closed at 17:00)
        • Admission:
          • Adults 18,000 won
INFORMATION
The Museum of Ancient Asia Woodblock Prints
  • Address:
    • 62, Muran-gil Sillim-myeon, Wonju-si, Gangwon-do
  • Tel.
    • 033-761-7885
  • Website:
  • Time:
    • Summer 10:00–18:00, Winter 10:00–17:00 (Closed on Mondays)
  • Admission:
    • 5,000 won
Writer by Song Ji-yoo | Photo by Nam Yoon-Jung(AZA Studio)
Client KTO | Production D.gram(Cultural Tours Alongside Local Celebrities) ⓒdgram.co.kr All Rights Reserved.
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