Traditional Construction Tools on Exhibit Reflect Artisan's Philosophy

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), April 29, 1999 | Go to article overview

Traditional Construction Tools on Exhibit Reflect Artisan's Philosophy


People are always at first amazed by the appearance of landmark architecture for its grandeur and artistic sophistication. Maybe given lesser attention later, however, could be the history and humanity hidden behind the blood, sweat and tears of the numerous contributing artisans -- from the architect to the stone lifter.

Admirers and experts often forget the monumental human effort involved in the creation of such structures -- hauling dirt, cutting wood with blunt saws and lifting massive granite from the earth.

A rare exhibition has brought to the mainstream some traditional items that have rarely had any serious attention or historical significance attributed to them -- down-to-earth old construction tools and equipment.

The National Folk Museum is now holding a special exhibition entitled ``Architectural Artisan and Tools'' with a 250-plus traditional item collection ranging from saws, planes, rulers, azimuth compasses, hammers, stone and wooden ground levelers and period roof tile relics. Prepared in commemoration for the Year of Architecture this year, the exhibition also features historical documents and period genre paintings depicting the construction and continues until June 7 in the museum located at Kyongbok Palace in front of the presidential reisdence Chong Wa Dae.

Greeting the visitors at the entrance of the exhibition hall is a model of a 10.5-meter high crane that was used to build the Suwon Fortress, one-hour drive, south from Seoul, in the late 18th century. Featuring a fixed pulley and a rope-rewinding wheel, the crane was reconstructed based on a building specification book for the fortication. Visitors are allowed to operate the machine to lift rocks.

Also on display is the specification book, the Archives of the Construction of Hwasong (Suwon) Fortress, which lists every detail regarding the construction of the fortress built from 1796-98. Published in 1801, the construction specification book contains blueprints, detailed designs, engineering methods, required materials, suppliers, building machinery, budget, workforce and their salary structure, timetables and the regulations of the project.

Moreover, Japanese construction tools are also on display to provide comparative analysis with Korean items. The neighboring nation's tools had been widely used during the Japan's colonization of Korea (1910-45).

Carpenters' ink pads were the instruments used to draw lines using thread soaked in thick black ink and to check the perpendicular erection of pillars against the ground -- the two areas are very basic but the most important jobs for the entire construction process and was only handled by the head carpenter, said the museum's curator Choe Sun-kwon. …

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