Archive for the 'Korea' Category

Object: Korean Hanbok



Seoul, South Korea


Silk, cotton, satin, metal fasteners



This traditional Korean dress called a hanbok, was collected in 1955 and donated to the museum’s ethnology collection in 1965. The ensemble consists of 3 pieces: an underskirt, skirt, (chima) and jacket/robe (jeogori). A hanbok typically consists of an upper garment called jeogori worn with trousers (baji) or a wraparound skirt (chima). Traditionally, the wide open sleeves of the jeogori have been said to represent the warmth and embrace of the Korean people while the flowing skirts symbolize space and freedom. The loose fit of both the chima and jeogori were designed for ease of movement and comfort.

The museum’s hanbok was handmade for the individual who donated it. The underskirt is white satin with brocade flowers attached to a white cotton bodice. The delicate bodice fastens at the back with hook-&-eye closures. The skirt is made of blue silk with gold painted designs in the same style as the underskirt. The jacket is pale blue silk with maroon decorations on the sleeve edge, underarm, and neck edge.


The changes in the hanbok and jeogori. Photo Credit:

The hanbok has been a cultural staple in Korean fashion for over 1,600 years but has changed drastically in that time!  The baji is usually worn by men and chima by women, but mural paintings dating back to the Goguryeo Kingdom (37 B.C. – 668 A.D.) show that there was originally no distinct difference in Hanbok styling by sex. In these ancient murals, both men and women wore wide-sleeved jeogori long enough to cover their hips over trousers or skirts. An example of a replica of the garments from these murals can be seen from the Google Arts and Culture exhibit about the Jeogori below. More examples can be seen directly at the digital exhibition, here.

Screen Shot 2019-05-02 at 10.27.10 AM

A recreation of the jeogori depicted in a Goguryeo Kingdom mural. Photo Credit: Traditional Clothing of the Goguryeo Kingdom (2016)
by Kim Jeong Ah, Arumjigi Culture Keepers Foundation

Over the centuries the hanbok and jeogori have continued to change, shifting to meet fashion trends. One of the most noticeable shifts is the ever changing preference on the height of the chima across the chest and waist. One change that has persisted into the modern era is the addition of the otgoreum. The otgoreum is the bow, tied in front of the chest, which replaced the previous trend of tying the waistband with long sashes.  The hanbok in the museum’s collection has a otogreum.


The Hanbok is still celebrated and worn on special occasions such as weddings, holidays and festivals. The flowing fabrics, floral decorative elements and bright colors have made the hanbok a favorite of tourists and fans of traditional clothing.


For more Info:,000-years.html

Object: Bronze Foo Dog


Foo Dog/Lion Statue
Unknown Date
Materials: Bronze

This is a bronze Foo Dog statue from Asia. It is 18” in height, 30.5” in width, and 10.5” in diameter. It has a detachable tail. Its mouth is open and there is a globe located under its right paw.

 Lion-Dog or Foo Dog statues can be found throughout Asia and Southeast Asia and are made of everything from porcelain to bronze. Historically, lions have represented wisdom, royalty, pride, and protection in many cultures around the world. These Lion-dog or Foo Dog statues are highly symbolic in Buddhism. Lions are viewed as iconographic figures in Buddhism because they protect “cosmic law and order,” serving as guardians for monasteries and shrines. One ancient story involves Buddha taming a wild lion. This tame lion would follow at Buddha’s heels like a “faithful dog.” Additionally, Buddha’s teachings are often referred to as the “Lion’s Roar” because of their power and strength.

Foo Dogs also feature prominently in ancient Chinese culture. During the Han Dynasty (206 BCE- 220CE) people began placing two lion statues in front of an image of Buddha. However, it was not until the beginning of the Heian period (794-1185 CE) that Lion-dog statues began to appear outside of temples and shrines. These statues were meant to honor the Buddha and protect the inhabitants of the site.

Since the Han Dynasty, Lion-dog statues are usually found in pairs: one female and one male. This bronze Foo Dog is also part of a pair. It is considered a male because of the globe located under its paw, which signifies protection of its territory and home. An open mouth on a male Foo Dog usually indicates an ending. On the other hand, for Female Foo Dogs, an open mouth symbolizes beginnings. Female Foo Dogs also have a cub under their left paw symbolizing strength and protective maternal instincts.

Foo Dog statues can still be found throughout Asia and Southeast Asia today, many still guarding homes, temples, and palaces. They appear in various shapes, sizes, and colors, and continue to symbolize protection. It is not uncommon to find Foo Dogs or other guardian statues outside of homes all around the world.

[Bryanna Evans]


Object: Korean Jewelry Box

Jewelry Box
Seoul , South Korea
Unknown Date
Wood, Lacquer, Mother of Pearl, metal

This jewelry box was made using the traditional Korean process of creating shell-inlayed lacquerware. Lacquerware emerged as a popular art form in Korea during the Josean dynasty (1392-1910). The production of lacquerware is a lengthy process, requiring great care and dedication. First, the wood used as the core of the piece is carefully selected and allowed to dry for many years to ensure that it will never warp.

The lacquer coating is made from the sap of the local Rhus vernicifera tree. This tree has poisonous properties similar to those of Poison Oak in the United States. Artisans build immunity to the plant by exposing themselves gradually over an extended period of time. Each tree produces about half a cup of sap each season. After the sap is drawn from a tree, it cannot be taken from the same tree again for a few years. Historically, the collection of sap from the Rhus vernicifera tree was strictly regulated by the Korean government. As a result, lacquerware was only available to the elite class of society. Eventually, knowledge of the technique used to create lacquerware spread and it became more accessible to other classes.

The second step of the process requires the application of more than 20 thin layers of lacquer to create each piece. Each layer of lacquer must be allowed to dry and then polished before the application of the next layer to ensure that there are no imperfections. Once it has hardened, the lacquer is extremely durable being resistant to water, heat, and even mild acid.

The inlayed details are added last, often using mother of pearl shells to create a decorative design. The shiny surface of mother of pearl is created by a mollusk living inside the shell. Mother of pearl is also a local resource and can be found all along the coasts of Korea.

Korean culture is reflected in the design itself. The bird depicted on the jewelry box is a phoenix, one of the Four Guardians of Korea. As the guardian of the south, the phoenix represents elegance, virtue, morality, and a prosperous future. Korean lacquerware has been around for many centuries embodying these characteristics, and creating a strong form of art that will continue for many more years to come.

Take a look at this interesting video on making similar kinds of lacquerware:

Work Cited

Beautiful Lacquer Ware Created by Artisans. YouTube. YouTube, 20 Apr. 2012. Web. 28 Sept. 2013. <>

Department of Asian Art. “Lacquerware of East Asia”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2004)

Lee, Soyoung. “Art of the Korean Renaissance, 1400–1600”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (September 2010)

Bone, Flesh, Skin: The Making of Japanese Lacquer (Part 1 of 2). Prod. Asian Art Museum. YouTube. YouTube, 30 Apr. 2009. Web. 28 Sept. 2013. <>.

Barkley, Stokes F.A. “Rhus Verniciflua.” Plants for a Future. PFAF, n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2013. <>.

“Pinctada Margaritifera.” Pinctada Margaritifera. CIESM, Dec. 2003. Web. 29 Sept. 2013. <>.

Peabody Essex Museum. “A Teacher’s Source Book for Korean Art and Culture.” Korean Art and Culture (n.d.): 1-33. Peabody Essex Museum. Web. 29 Sept. 2013. <>.

[Lauren Fountain]

Object: Ewer

918-1392: Koryo (or Korai or Goryeo) Period
Materials: Porcelain, celadon glaze

This object is an ewer or vase-like pitcher, which has been dated from the 12th century. The ewer is gourd-shaped (characteristic of the Koryo period) and has a low foot, flared spout and a double rope handle. Human-like figures and bunches of grapes and vines adorn the vase. These figures are done in black and white slip, which contrast against the greenish gray color of the celadon glaze. Prior to the Koryo period, pottery and ceramics in Korea were unglazed. During the Koryo period Korean artists began adding glaze, which provide a smooth, glassy appearance.  Celadon, like that found on this ewer from the Sam Noble Museum, is a type of semi-transparent glaze that originated in China. Korean artists in the Koryo period perfected the craft of celadon production, popularizing inlaid celadon. To create inlaid celadon, artists would use black or white slip to create a design on the piece before glazing. This was a distinctly different practice from the traditional Chinese method.

Celadon glaze can produce a variety of colors such as white, yellow, gray or blue. The color of the glaze depends on the glaze’s composition, the thickness or how many layers are applied, as well as the type of clay the glaze is applied to. However, the most sought after color by artists and collectors is a pale green similar to jade. The green color is achieved during the firing process. The iron oxide in the glaze or the clay will change colors in an oxygen-restricted kiln. As glaze can often defect during the firing process, crazing or crackling can occur. Depending on the nature of the crackling in each specimen, the result is sometimes desirable.

For more information see:
Brandt, Kim
2000   Objects of Desire: Japanese Collectors and Colonial Korea. Positions 8(3): 711-747.
Lee, Soyoung
2003    Goryeo Celadon. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000
[Chelsea Pierce]

Object: Smoking set

Smoking set
ca. 1950s
Materials: Wood, brass, mother of pearl

This smoking set features an image of the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, in what is now Seoul, South Korea on the lid. This historic building was constructed in 1412 by King Taejong of the Joseon Dynasty. Now a national landmark of Korea, the pavilion was originally used as the state banquet hall and was part of the larger Gyeongbokgung Palace complex. The Gyeongbokgung, meaning “Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven,” was the largest of the Five Grand Palaces build by the Joseon Dynasty in Korea.

The Joseon Dynasty ruled over the united Korean Peninsula from 1392 until the Japanese Occupation of Korea in 1910. This was the last royal dynasty of Korea and was known for its strong Confucian ideals, and for the development of science, literature and technology in Korea. This dynasty, though often troubled by wars and conflict, presided over a period of great cultural growth. The Korean tea ceremony was codified, and many gardens and palaces were built during this period.

The interior of the box contains a small brass bowl, that was used as an ashtray and a small compartment to store cigarettes, matches or other small items. While some of the image is painted, most of the decoration is inlaid mother of pearl. Mother of pearl is an iridescent blend of minerals, also known as nacre, that is produced by oysters and other mollusks. This substance is used to coat the inside of the mollusk’s shell and protects their bodies from parasites and foreign objects. Nacre is the same type of material that forms pearls. Below you will find a short video that explains how pearls are formed in oysters. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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