Choe Eun-sun, Master Artist of Decorative Knotting, is a woman who devotes her entire life to the art of Maedeup
by knotting her loves and hopes for her life, her husband and children together with silk threads. For 50 years now,
she has seen flowers redder than blood blossom at her fingertips, flowers whose petals eventually dried and parted
to release her soul through the tiny openings. Thus, her decorative knotting artworks never fail to fascinate viewers
as each knot silently and subtly exudes her incredible dexterity and her ever-deepening love for her husband.

Not so long ago, the traditional Korean art of decorative knotting was believed to be extinct due to Korea’s troubled
recent history. But in 1961, a journalist by the name of Ye Yong-hae discovered an unknown artist of decorative
knotting, the late Jeong Yeon-su. According to a newspaper story he wrote, Jeong (a young man from a wealthy family
whose hobby was making things with hands) encountered the decorative art of knotting when he happened
to witness his neighbor knotting something with colorful strings. A man with agile hands and sharp eyes, he took to
the art almost instantly and soon began to produce his own pieces. However, his family was not happy about this
young man doing ‘women’s work,’ so he had to hide himself and his arts away from his family so they wouldn’t see
what he was doing. Eventually, the decorative knotting became his lifelong vocation, and he, himself, became
the last distinguished decorative knotting artist in the Sigumun area of Seoul. His achievement and contribution to
preserving the dying art was publicly recognized in 1968 when he was designated by the Korean government as
a Master Artist of Decorative Knotting, a title listed as Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 22. The designation
was later granted to his wife, Choe Eun-sun in 1976, after his death. The tradition of Korean decorative art
of knotting, for which Jeong dedicated his entire life, now continues in the hands of his wife.

Choe Eun-sun was drawn to the decorative art of knotting through her husband. When she married
Jeong, she was quite surprised that her husband was engaged in a work that traditionally women had
done for the home. She wasn’t happy about the situation but had no other choice but to follow her
husband because that was what the male-dominated society expected from a good wife. Jeong
did not formally train her in decorative knotting, but she acquired the necessary skills as she had
to help her husband’s work on a daily basis. Learning Maedeup was frustrating and difficult,
and several times a day she wanted to give up. Her fingers cracked and bled, and her flesh
tore from the cuts before they had a chance to heal. What helped her to persevere was her
husband’s love for her. He was a reticent man who wouldn’t say even one word to her all day
long when he was immersed in decorative knot artwork. But she knew that every knot he made
with silk strings was his way of expressing his love for her and their children. One night, he put
a Maedeup norigae, a trinket with knot ornaments, into her cracked hand as a sign of his love
for her. It was at that moment that she decided to fill her heart with his love, and began to love
and respect her husband’s mission and passion, which she had previously not accepted.

The art of Maedeup is now a solid family tradition and business as her daughter, Jeong
Bong-seop, and her granddaughter, Park Seon-gyeong, joined her. She had one son and
three daughters, but she only wanted her eldest daughter to bequeath the skills of her parents.
She didn’t want to let her daughters suffer the same painful experiences of cuts, blood, and
torn-off flesh that she endured while she was learning. Jeong Bong-seop, her eldest daughter
and the successor of the family tradition, bore similar incidents during her apprenticeship
under her mother. She says that despite the hardship she wouldn’t give up her plan of giving
her life over to the art because she couldn’t resist the fascinating beauty of decorative knotting.

The mysterious beauty in the trinity union of
parts of which a decorative knot artwork is made:
the delicate grace of the kkeunmok (string) that
only the most skilled, agile hands and faithful,
dedicated heart can produce; the exquisite balance
and harmony of the Maedeup (knotted pattern)
that can easily disintegrate from a moment’s
distraction; and the enigmatic complexity of the
sul (tassel) created only by an artist of a pure mind,
is revealed through the wondrous fingertips of these three women.

View the master's works