Nakhwa, or traditional Korean pyrography, creates natural colors and beautiful pictures as the hot iron runs over paper. Kim Young-jo, a traditional Korean pyrography master, has dedicated himself to the art of fire drawing with perseverance and has made it into the National Intangible Cultural Heritage. He guides us through the world of beautiful drawings created by fire.

Drawings Created by Fire

A searing hot iron is run over hanji, traditional Korean paper, to create a subtle brown colored landscape. Kim Young-jo, a nakhwajang (traditional Korean pyrography master) and the National Intangible Cultural Heritage, creates wonderful drawings using fire, an iron and a sheet of hanji – no brushes or paints are needed.
“Nankwa is the art of writing, drawing or creating patterns using a hot iron on paper, silk, wood or other material that can be burned.”
Kim entered the world of nakhwa just because he liked it.

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At first, he wanted to be a painter, but he had to abandon study after his father passed away when he was in high school. In the spring of 1972, he accidentally saw an advertisement on a newspaper that changed his life forever. The advertisement was recruiting pyrography students. He even didn’t know what nakhwa was, but he assumed that it was a kind of drawing, and upon seeing the phrase that said, “employment guaranteed,” he visited the pyrography institute run by Jeon Chang-jin. Pursuing his dream that had been nearly abandoned, Kim exercised night and day while staying at the institute, and his skills improved two to three times faster than other students. However, as the number of students reduced, the institute was closed, and he had to study by himself. Kim began making souvenirs using the technique he learned for the past 3 years and sold them at tourist sites. In 1979, he settled in Boeun and opened as many as 4 souvenir shops in front of Songnisan Mountain. Once his life stabilized, he started creating his own work.

Art Elevated from Souvenirs to National Intangible Cultural Heritage

Kim looked for literature related to pyrography and copied several oriental paintings to improve his traditional pyrography skills including landscape paintings and paintings of flowers and birds. He repeated the same drawing 100 to 1,000 times for 7 years. The public perception of pyrography as something merely for making souvenirs sold at tourist attractions further stimulated his endeavor. Kim tried submitting his work for exhibitions, but was rejected as they said Kim’s pyrographic drawings were not art. Whenever he faced such negative perceptions, he solidified his resolution to make pyrography into a globally recognized art form. Kim later gained confidence after winning several awards at contests including a special award at the 2007 Korea Annual Traditional Handicraft Art Exhibition. In 2010, Kim was designated as a Chungcheongbuk-do Intangible Cultural Heritage and was invited to various overseas exhibitions. In particular, he was invited to the opening ceremony of Biennale D’Arte di Asolo where he demonstrated his art form. In addition, in January 2019, Kim became the first nakhwajang chosen to be a National Intangible Heritage. “What I am proud of is not my skills, but that I contributed to further developing the great art called nakhwa, which has been stagnant for 500 years, into the traditional arts category.”
In the past, Kim followed the path without any trace of hope, but he continued his journey with only one purpose – to widely promote the beauty of nakhwa. His hands are always full of burned scars, but he holds an iron in his hand every day. His life resembles nakhwa, which creates beautiful colors by burning itself.

I heard nakhwa has a long history. How has it been passed on until now?

There is no accurate records about the history of nakhwa. Academic circles estimate that nakhwa is approximately 500 years old, and the technique was first developed in China. Records show a person named Mupungja Muyeom was well-known for nakhwa in China during the Ming Dynasty around 700 years ago. It is said nakhwa was introduced in Korea at the end of the Ming Dynasty. Oh Se-chang writes in his book Geunyeokseohwajing (Records of Korean Painters) that Noblewoman Jang Gye-hyang was good at nakhwa.

It appears that the art mainly spread among women after it was introduced in Korea by way of China. Another possibility is that nakhwa spread mainly among ordinary citizens because paper, writing brushes and ink were not necessary to draw nakhwa. The art disappeared from records for about 200 years, until it appeared again with the emergence of a person named Park Chang-gyu in 1820. He is the one who made nakhwa into drawings. Around that time, noble families living in Seoul all had folding screens decorated with nakhwa, therefore we can assume nakhwa had great popularity back then. Chusa Gim Jeong-hui, a well-known Korean calligrapher who had close ties with Park, said in his letter that Park had such outstanding nakhwa skills that he was a grade above Chinese nakhwa master Mupungja. Park was even invited to the royal palace and drew the king’s portrait in front of the king, records say. However, after that, the art became a distant memory as nakhwa was mainly passed down only within the Park family of Miryang. Later, nakhwa was handed down through the collateral line of the Park family of Miryang, and that is how my teacher Jeon Chang-jin inherited the tradition.

I would like to know more about the nakhwa technique. And what do you think is the greatest charm of nakhwa?

The technique for creating Nakwha is similar to that of traditional ink-and-wash painting. The only difference is that a hot iron is used instead of brushes. The key is to express light and shade using a hot iron, so you should be able to handle fire and a hot iron well enough to express light and shade. Depending on the iron’s temperature and how strong you press the iron on the paper, you can express different colors ranging from brown to black. You can also express lines or colors by pressing the paper with the iron’s edge or blade. You can draw typical oriental painting subjects including landscapes, flowers and birds, etc. using the nakhwa technique, which combines the merits of western painting and oriental ink-and-wash painting. In western paintings you can apply many layers of paints and expose the bottom layer while mixing the top layers together. Similarly, the biggest merit of nakhwa is that you can create various effects by repeatedly skimming the paper 20 to 30 times. In addition, just like oriental painting where you can create beautiful images using running ink on paper, you can create a similar effect with nakhwa by spreading the hot iron over burned areas on the paper. Likewise, nakhwa can create a wide range of effects found in both western and oriental paintings. Above all, nakhwa paintings boast a pure and simple beauty since only one color is used.

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What do you think is the significance of nakhwa as a cultural tourism content?

Nakhwajang is the only National Intangible Heritage of Boeun-gun. What’s more, the art has newly become a national heritage, and I am the only one who holds the technique. In that sense, I believe nakhwa is a crucial regional asset, and it can become a local specialty art. Furthermore, since nakhwa is a type of painting, it can be applied to several different areas to develop local cultural products or art. This unfamiliar area called nakhwa has enough charms to attract the attention of the public, but if it is combined with the existing tourism resources of Boeun-gun, greater synergy effects will be created. I believe we should promote the fact that nakhwajang only exists in Boeun and combine that fact with tourism. Currently, I am working with the local government to develop a cultural tour program titled “Tour of Traditional Arts and Culture that Bloom from Fire” where tourists can experience nakhwa along with nakhwajang and learn to make their own home décor craft items. I believe various programs and cultural tourism contents that can represent our region can be developed in the future.

PROGRAMS

Boeun Traditional Craft Experience School’s Exhibition Hall Tour

Opened in 2017, the Boeun Traditional Craft Experience School is run by the intangible cultural heritage owners of Boeun-gun, including masters in wooden Buddhist statue carving, wood carving, metal working, bamboo branding, etc. The school runs activity programs and exhibits traditional craft items made by Intangible Cultural Heritage owners in traditional crafts. Visitors can also experience other Boeun-gun traditional craft items including hanji (traditional Korean paper), needlework, natural dyeing, and Buddhist scripture transcription. There is a separate exhibition hall where diverse items made by handcraft masters including nakhwa works are displayed.

Boeun Tour with Nakhwajang

There is no regular nakhwa activity programs yet, but you can make a reservation and learn from nakhwa master Kim Young-jo. This hands-on experience program, only available in Boeun-gun, will be a memorable experience

Cheongmok Gallery Tour

Housed in a mushroom-shaped red-clay house, Cheongmok Gallery consists of Kim Young-jo’s studio and an exhibition room where about 100 nakhwa items are displayed. Reservations are required.

  • Address:
    • 1471, Bocheong-daero Boeun-eup, Boeun-gun, Chungcheongbuk-do
  • Tel.
    • 070-7795-3989
Boeun Cultural Property Experience

The Boeun-gun government runs a cultural property experience program titled “Let’s go visit Jeon-gipumsong Pine Trees” in collaboration with the Cultural Heritage Administration. The program consists of family activity programs, handcraft experience programs for groups or for the elderly residing in the community. Online reservations are required.

RECOMMENDED TOURIST ATTRACTIONS

Beopjusa Temple

Beopjusa Temple was established by Buddhist monk Uisin in the 14th year of King Jinheung (553) during the Unified Silla Dynasty. Legends say monk Uisin found the temple site on his way from China to Korea while carrying Buddhist scriptures, and that’s why the temple is named beopju meaning “the law of Buddha stayed here.” Beopjusa Temple is a representative Korean temple where major Buddhist cultural properties from the Unified Silla, Goryeo, and Joseon eras are kept. The temple holds three National Treasures, 13 Treasures, several Chungcheongbuk-do Tangible Cultural Heritages and many more. Beopjusa Temple is also registered on the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

  • Address:
    • 379, Beopjusa-ro Sokrisan-myeon, Boeun-gun, Chungcheongbuk-do
  • Tel.
    • 043-543-3615
Samnyeonsanseong Fortress

Sitting on Ojeongsan Mountain, Samnyeonsanseong Fortress is said to have been completed in just three years in the 13th year of King Ja-bimaripgan (470) during the Silla Dynasty. This stone walled fortress served as a bridgehead for Silla’s unification of three countries. It was an impregnable fortress that has never been occupied by enemies during the era of the Three States. Samnyeonsanseong Fortress is a representative stone-walled fortress boasting a 1,500-year history. It also is the ideal place to refresh one’s mind and enjoy the expansive views of the area while walking along the stone walls.

  • Address:
    • 104, Seongju 1-gil Boeun-eup, Boeun-gun, Chungcheongbuk-do
  • Tel.
    • 043-542-3384

PROGRAMS

Boeun Traditional Craft Experience School’s Exhibition Hall Tour

Opened in 2017, the Boeun Traditional Craft Experience School is run by the intangible cultural heritage owners of Boeun-gun, including masters in wooden Buddhist statue carving, wood carving, metal working, bamboo branding, etc. The school runs activity programs and exhibits traditional craft items made by Intangible Cultural Heritage owners in traditional crafts. Visitors can also experience other Boeun-gun traditional craft items including hanji (traditional Korean paper), needlework, natural dyeing, and Buddhist scripture transcription. There is a separate exhibition hall where diverse items made by handcraft masters including nakhwa works are displayed.

Boeun Tour with Nakhwajang

There is no regular nakhwa activity programs yet, but you can make a reservation and learn from nakhwa master Kim Young-jo. This hands-on experience program, only available in Boeun-gun, will be a memorable experience

Cheongmok Gallery Tour

Housed in a mushroom-shaped red-clay house, Cheongmok Gallery consists of Kim Young-jo’s studio and an exhibition room where about 100 nakhwa items are displayed. Reservations are required.

  • Address:
    • 1471, Bocheong-daero Boeun-eup, Boeun-gun, Chungcheongbuk-do
  • Tel.
    • 070-7795-3989
Boeun Cultural Property Experience

The Boeun-gun government runs a cultural property experience program titled “Let’s go visit Jeon-gipumsong Pine Trees” in collaboration with the Cultural Heritage Administration. The program consists of family activity programs, handcraft experience programs for groups or for the elderly residing in the community. Online reservations are required.

RECOMMENDED TOURIST ATTRACTIONS

Beopjusa Temple

Beopjusa Temple was established by Buddhist monk Uisin in the 14th year of King Jinheung (553) during the Unified Silla Dynasty. Legends say monk Uisin found the temple site on his way from China to Korea while carrying Buddhist scriptures, and that’s why the temple is named beopju meaning “the law of Buddha stayed here.” Beopjusa Temple is a representative Korean temple where major Buddhist cultural properties from the Unified Silla, Goryeo, and Joseon eras are kept. The temple holds three National Treasures, 13 Treasures, several Chungcheongbuk-do Tangible Cultural Heritages and many more. Beopjusa Temple is also registered on the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

  • Address:
    • 379, Beopjusa-ro Sokrisan-myeon, Boeun-gun, Chungcheongbuk-do
  • Tel.
    • 043-543-3615
Samnyeonsanseong Fortress

Sitting on Ojeongsan Mountain, Samnyeonsanseong Fortress is said to have been completed in just three years in the 13th year of King Ja-bimaripgan (470) during the Silla Dynasty. This stone walled fortress served as a bridgehead for Silla’s unification of three countries. It was an impregnable fortress that has never been occupied by enemies during the era of the Three States. Samnyeonsanseong Fortress is a representative stone-walled fortress boasting a 1,500-year history. It also is the ideal place to refresh one’s mind and enjoy the expansive views of the area while walking along the stone walls.

  • Address:
    • 104, Seongju 1-gil Boeun-eup, Boeun-gun, Chungcheongbuk-do
  • Tel.
    • 043-542-3384
INFORMATION
Boeun Traditional Craft Experience School
  • Address:
    • 34, Songnisan-ro Boeun-eup, Boeun-gun, Chungcheongbuk-do
  • Tel.
    • 070-7795-3989
  • Website:
  • Time:
    • 10:00~17:00
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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