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Gold Needles

Wedding fan, Korea, mid-19th century, with metal and silk thread embroidery Wedding fan, Korea, mid-19th century, with metal and silk thread embroidery Cleveland Museum of Art, USA, Director's Contingent Fund 1918.558.

In 2020, the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA), in collaboration with the Seoul Museum of Craft Art, set up an exhibition with the title: Gold Needles: Embroidery Arts from Korea. The exhibition focuses on the embroidery produced in the later years of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). The description below is taken from an accompanying text written by Sooa Im McCormick, associate curator of Korean Art at the CMA.

Most of the pieces on show in the exhibition were donated in 2018 to the Seoul Museum of Craft Art by Dong-hwa Huh (1926-2018) and Young-suk Park (b. 1932), a couple who shared a passion for the preservation and presentation of Korean textiles.

The textiles on display include so-called pojagi, wrapping cloths in bright colours and with bold geometric designs, which were used to pack and store various items, such as clothing, bedding and gifts. Designs include arboreal patterns, which symbolise eternal conjugal happiness. A future bride would embroider these cloths with the help of her mother, aunts and other women.

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One Hundred Children at Play, Korea, late Joseon Dynasty. Ten-panel folding screen, embroidery on silk (Seoul Museum of Craft Art, 2018-D-Huh-0001).

Also on display is an embroidered wedding gown (hwarot). Its red satin silk surface is embroidered with peonies, butterflies, lotus flowers, white cranes, and phoenixes, all worked in silk thread. This particular gown was acquired in 1915 by Langdon Warner in Korea, on behalf of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Striking is the condition of the gown: it shows multiple traces of mending, trimmings and patchwork. According to the Museum notes, this testifies to the neo-Confucian principles of frugality and modesty.

Also on view are embroidered thimbles, pouches, pillows and rank badges, but also folding screens that show royal embroiderers' artistry and professionalism. Girls were trained from a young age, and collaboration between (female) embroiderers and (male) painters resulted in the finest picturesque embroidery. But male embroiderers were also active. The city of Anju in Pyongan Province was famous for its folding screens embroidered by men. Their products were highly appreciated, and were sold against very high prices.

Reference: Exhibition introduction (accessed 23 May 2021).

YouTube (accessed 23 May 2021).

WV, 23 May 2021

Last modified on Sunday, 23 May 2021 13:42