[Interview] The 32-Year-Old Samsung Dehumidifier Keeping a Korean Craftsman’s Studio ComfortableShare open/close
“All that is old is not good. However, there is value to be found in things that last.”
— Man-gi Park, Traditional Korean Handicraft "Ottchil" Artisan
The basement studio of Man-gi Park features numerous traditional Najeonchilgi masterpieces. Najeonchilgi refers to objects finished with Ottchil1 and inlaid with Najeon (mother-of-pearl, various colorful and vibrant pieces of shellfish). Najeonchilgi require highly intricate designs and high levels of craftsmanship at each process of production — from building the base product to applying numerous layers of natural lacquer to adorning the façade with small pieces of shellfish — and are thus considered fine pieces of traditional art.
Man-gi is a graduate of Chiljang (lacquerware making), Korean National Intangible Cultural Heritage No. 113, and is considered one of the best in his craft. Also found in this studio is a 32-year-old dehumidifier from Samsung Electronics. Samsung Newsroom sat down with Man-gi Park to learn about the seemingly unlikely partnership between a dehumidifier and an artisan that has grown over the last three decades.
Park’s technique as a traditional ottchil craftsman differs from modern lacquer methods. While other types of lacquer are dried by applying heat, ottchil is applied in layers that are subsequently dried at a specific humidity level — making the meticulous process extremely time consuming. As such, controlling the humidity in an ottchil studio is essential — any condition short of optimal can hinder the drying process. To create an appropriate environment, Park has been using the same Samsung dehumidifier for the past 32 years, allowing him to continue making beautiful pieces and keep the traditional Korean craft alive.
A Technological Solution for a Traditional Artist
Park found his current workspace in the midst of his career. However, he soon discovered the high humidity would be problematic for ottchil and searched for a solution to maintain an ideal crafting environment.
“I acquired this studio in 1990, but the humidity is high since it is in a basement. At the time, I tried everything to lower it with little success,” said Park.
Conditions that are too dry or wet will inhibit the ottchil piece from drying correctly, meaning that humidity levels must be tightly regulated.
“Ottchil can only be produced in an environment where humidity is kept at an optimal level of approximately 60%. When the humidity exceeds 80% in the summer, the ottchil ‘burns’ and loses its gloss. When humidity is too low in the winter, the ottchil does not dry properly. Production is difficult because it is impossible to give the ottchil product its characteristic shine until the lacquer properly dries. In the past, I tried turning on a stove and running a heater to remove moisture but nothing worked,” explained Park.
On dry winter days, Park manually regulated the humidity by spraying water inside the studio. However, when humidity spiked during the summer, regulating indoor conditions became nearly impossible for the craftsman.
After countless methods to manually regulate humidity, Park turned to technology. Upon discovering that Samsung had released its own dehumidifier, Park went to Yongsan Electronics Market, a wholesale appliance and device market in Seoul, to check it out.
“After learning the product dehumidifies the air, I had high expectations. At first, I was taken aback by the warm air that was emitted. I thought ‘Huh? This shouldn’t be emitting warm air,’” he said. “But after running it for a while, I noticed that the device effectively captured moisture and regulated the humidity in the basement studio. I remember the moment I first realized ‘this is going to work!’ I was impressed and thrilled at the same time. I’ve kept my Samsung dehumidifier, ever since.”
Samsung Dehumidifier: The Craftsman’s Most-Prized Tool
The relationship between Park and his first Samsung dehumidifier seems to be more than mere ownership. “There’s this expression called ‘well-thumbed,’” said Park. “It means you’re comfortable using the product, you know the product well because you’ve been using it for a long time. There is no substitute for this kind of affection.”
As the dehumidifier has been by his side for decades, Park cannot envision his workspace without it. “I am happy that the unit has worked for so long,” he said. “Every year, I express my gratitude to the machine and say, ‘Thanks to you, another summer has passed by smoothly.’ It’s more of a companion.”
Since the dehumidifier has been by his side for 32 years, Park is an expert — knowing everything from how the device runs to the care needed to maintain its performance.
“Avoiding anything that can strain the product is essential. I try not to tilt it to avoid damaging the three decade-old compressor. It’s also important to clean it and store it properly once the summer is over,” explained Park.
Over the years, Park purchased other models of Samsung dehumidifiers and currently owns four units — including the 32 year-old “ancestor” dehumidifier — that are all operating in peak condition.
Something Old and Something New: A Powerful Dehumidifier for Years To Come
Going forward, Park hopes to keep his “ancestor” dehumidifier in top condition — emphasizing the value it brings to his studio and his pieces.
“All that is old is not good. However, there is value to be found in things that last,” said Park. “For my products, my philosophy is that they should retain their value after a decade, and then a century. As for my dehumidifier, it has helped me create the best pieces and has become an integral part of my life. I hope to keep crafting pieces to the best of my ability with my dehumidifier companion by my side for as long as I can, whether that’s 10 years or 100.”
1 Ottchil (natural lacquering), a method of traditional Korean handicraft, involves the application of color to dishware, furniture and other objects using natural lacquer extracted from ott (the refined sap, or ott, of rhus trees). Ottchil is known to help products better endure humidity, while giving it a deep, distinct color and shine. While public interest in ottchil has diminished with the development of synthetic lacquer, the tradition is kept alive today by craftsmen like Park.
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