Jang Ju-won, a gold-and-silversmith’s son, became interested in jewelry making when he was a
child and started to learn the basic skills from his father while helping him with various errands. In
fact, his talents in art and music were noticeable from when he was an elementary school student.
When he was in middle school, he participated in a contest to design an emblem of the high school
that he was to attend and won first prize. After he graduated from high school, he began to engage in
his father’s work but at the age of 19 felt pressured by his parents to marry. He didn’t take long to
realize that he was too young to lead a happy married life. He left home for Seoul without any definite
plans for his future and occupied himself with any odd job that came along, whether it was woodwork
or portrait painting, and even became a saxophone player in a band.

When he was 22 years old, he returned to the art of metalwork. He met a pupil of his father, Jeong
Gil-taek, in Seoul and was invited to work in a gold and silver ornaments factory named
Gwangchangdang where Jeong was its manager. Gwangchangdang was located in the Jongno
district of Seoul, the center of the Korean jewelry industry, and it was here that Jang began to
seriously learn from Jeong about jewelry making. In 1964, at the age of 27, Jang moved to another
company, Bogongsa, which specialized in gemstone jewelry, and where Jang was introduced to the
art of jade carving. A young man with artistic talents, solid skills and experience in jewelry making, he
made steady progress in the new art.

The turning point of his life came one day when a customer arrived with a broken jade incense burner and asked
him to mend it. Finding that the Chinese burner was carved from a single block of jade without attaching any parts,
he became intrigued. He studied diligently but could not determine how it was made. He became drawn into the
piece deeper and deeper as if bewitched by it, and his desire to solve the mystery of its creation grew stronger. The
jade incense burner became an obsession and he began to see it day and night, awake or asleep. As a result, he
became sick from his fixation and stayed in bed for about 15 days without eating. People said that he was attacked
by the ‘jade disease.’

Even after recovering from his illness, he had to stay at home
because the shock of the unknown Chinese artisan who had
made the burner was still too great to let him go back
to work. He decided to stake his life on jade and
to be the greatest jade carver within 20 years.
His plan was to invest the first 10 years in
learning techniques and the second
10 years in creating his own style and
artworks. Within the first step, he
decided he should learn Chinese
jade carving, a tradition with a
5,000-year history. At first, he just
began imitating Chinese works,
carving jade under a light bulb for 20 hours
a day. He allowed himself only one meal per day in order to better focus on his work, and didn’t light the heater, even
during the coldest winter days, to keep himself awake. He has devoted nearly 40 years of his life to the art of jade
carving, but he often argues that it has been 60 years because he worked 20 hours a day for at least half of those 40

He was even confined to a mental hospital once by his relatives, who believed that he was mad because he didn’t
wash nor shave for months, once he found a reason to be in his workshop. In another instance, his neighbors, not
recognizing him, reported to the police that he was a spy sent from North Korea. He also used to see hallucinations
in his works. One day when he was carving a dragon, he saw nine dragons entangled with each other, spitting
fumes. He shouted to his wife to come and see them, but unbeknownst to him it was just an illusion only he could

His extraordinary efforts of 20 years in the art of jade carving finally paid off and he became the greatest jade
carver in Korea as he planned. He held successful solo exhibitions starting with the Dong-A Ilbo Exhibition for the Art
of Jade Carving in 1984, and won many awards in prestigious crafts contests. His unique and wonderful art was
publicly acknowledged in 1996 when the Korean government designated his art as ‘Important Intangible Cultural
Property No. 100’ and gave him the honorary title of Master Craftsman of Jade Carving. Jang Ju-won is currently
teaching as a chair professor at Kyonggi University, contributing to bequeathing his knowledge and skills of jade
carving to future generations. The university has opened an exhibition hall within its College of Arts for a collection of
80 jade pieces carved by Jang.

View the master's works