Ipsa is the traditional Korean art of inlaying thin threads of silver or gold onto harder surfaces such as iron to create exquisite decorative patterns or images.
The craft reached its pinnacle in the Goryeo Kingdom (918-1392) and expanded under the ensuing Joseon Kingdom, when it was widely used for everyday objects such as incense burners, metal jars and candlesticks.
In ipsa art, everything is done by hand. From preparing thin wires to hammering them onto the finely chiseled and engraved surface to form splendid designs, the process requires the highest level of dexterity and precision from a craftsman, which can only be acquired through years and years of practice.
That’s perhaps why the trade was a lost tradition for decades in modern-day Korea, until Hong Jung-sil almost single-handedly revived it and established it as National Intangible Cultural Heritage No. 7 in the 1980s.
As the official holder of the ipsa techniques, Hong now works, studies and teaches at the Training Center for the National Intangible Cultural Properties in Seoul.
In an interview with The Korea Herald earlier this year, she stressed that aesthetic designs matter more than the skills themselves. She strictly sticks to traditional techniques and methods, but tries to take new approaches to create abstract art pieces that blend the traditional and contemporary, she said.
Photographed by Park Hyun-koo
Written by Lee Sun-young