It is an unchanging truth among fan makers that no fan can create a cool breeze unless
it is soaked with the maker’s sweat. It usually takes 100 days to make a hand held fan
piece, starting with the stage of cutting the quality bamboo, followed by each phase
made by the artisan’s hands. Naturally, the hands of Seonjajang Yi Gi-dong, who
has been living with fans all his life, are covered with wounds and cuts by the
sharp bamboo strips. Because hand fan making is complicated, the
Joseon administration operated six specialized workshops under a head
establishment named Seonjabang, or Office of Fans. They were:
Golseonbang ('Fan Structure Workshop'), where bamboo was cut into thin
strips; Nakjukbang ('Pyrography Workshop') where fan ribs were decorated
with nakjuk designs; Gwangbang ('Polish Workshop') where the ribs were
polished after the nakjuk decoration; Sabokbang ('Sand-Fortune Workshop') where all
the fan’s bamboo ribs were riveted; Dobaebang ('Papering Workshop') where the ribs were
covered with mulberry paper; and Grimbang ('Painting Workshop'), where the paper was painted
or calligraphy was drawn upon it.

The main material of Korean hand fan, bamboo that has grown for three to four years without any flaw on its skin, is
prepared by harvesting it during the winter. The two edge ribs of a fan should be made by using thicker bamboo strips
with close joints. For Yi, bamboo from Geojedo Island is the best for such purposes and he makes annual visits to
the island to find the right bamboo. After it has been reaped and cut into the proper sizes, the bamboo needs to be
soaked in caustic soda to rid it of resin, then needs to dry for about 20 days in direct sunlight so it becomes bleached.
Afterwards, the bamboo is soaked in water for about a week before boiling. After this treatment, the bamboo displays
an attractive natural color without the greenish touches it originally had. What follows is the most difficult part of all in
fan making: producing pliable paper-thin strips out of the bamboo. If a strip is too thick, the fan can become too chunky,
whereas strips that are too thin can easily be broken when the fan is being used. Only ribs with the right thickness
can produce a fine hapjukseon that displays the figure of a beautiful woman, held in the user’s hand in an attractively
comfortable way.

A fine hapjukseon fits beautifully in the hand and the flexibility of the bamboo ribs creates a
wonderfully pleasant breeze, neither too strong nor too weak. In fact, the secret is hidden in the
glue used to apply the mulberry paper onto the bamboo ribs. Made from the air bladder of a
type of fish called a croaker, this unique fish glue is the same adhesive used for many
traditional craftworks of Korea, including mother-of-pearl objects, furniture and bows and
arrows. Only when this fish glue is used, a hapsukseon can attain the optimum pliability
and strength that it needs.

Another element to add attraction and beauty to a Korean paper fan is the use of hwangchil
('yellow lacquer'), a natural lacquer applied to paper before it has been painted or has
had calligraphy composed on it. Taken from a Korean native lacquer tree grown in and
around the islands and coastal areas south of the Korean peninsula, this golden
translucent pigment creates mysteriously elegant colors. For its attractive rare golden hue,
the pigment has been an important export item since the Three Kingdoms Period
(57 B.C.-668 A.D.). Not only the color, but also the sweet natural fragrance emanating from it
adds delightful joy to the users of hapjukseon.

These works of art made of bamboo and Korean mulberry paper by the great artisan, Seonjajang Yi, emit a cool breeze
containing the breath of ancient tradition and mysterious nature that envelops contemporary people, who depend on the
unnatural electricity-made cold wind to expel the mid-summer heat, reminding them of the simplicity and beauty of the
natural world.

View the master's works