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[Eye Plus] Glittering 'chilbo' metal craft links past and future

By Lim Jae-seong

Published : May 20, 2023 - 16:01

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“Managing fire and time is the essence of my major,” said Choi Hyo-ryeong, who majors in metal craft at the Korea National University of Cultural Heritage in Buyeo-gun, South Chungcheong Province.

Choi demonstrated how she creates Korea’s traditional decorative metal works called "chilbo," an enameling technique similar to cloisonne, in which metal is coated with various powders and subjected to high temperatures of 600 degrees or above.

Often worn as accessories, the resulting chilbo objects glitter with seven colored materials: gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, coral, agate and giant clam shell. The craft's name directly translates to “seven jewels" in Korean.

“In making chilbo, it is very important to use neither too hot nor too cold temperatures to melt the materials sufficiently,” Choi explained.

The chilbo being produced by Choi sparkled under the light of her worktable, while Choi talked about how much she loved her major.

Besides her love for beautiful craft works, the meaning of learning traditional craft inspires her, Choi says.

“I am proud of myself, connecting and harmonizing the past and future, whenever I learn about the materials, techniques and mindset involved as an artisan at school,” she said.

Choi also demonstrated she feels a sense of responsibility when learning traditional craft.

"Koreans' traditional craft comes from putting the beauty that people in the old days enjoyed to practical use, particularly in objects that can be worn. In particular, traditional craft has been developed by our ancestors to suit our customs and climate," Choi said.

“By studying traditional craft, we pass all these things on to the future," she continued.

“I hope, one day that my own works will also be considered a part of this tradition."

Photos by Im Se-jun

Written by Im Se-jun, Lim Jae-seong