Like Hansel in the fairy tale, I, too, was lured but inside Myung Sin Dang Pil Bang (Artist Supply Shop). Like the other great men before me, I wasn’t able to escape its charm.
Having been in and out of this quaint art shop for a couple of times on my first day in Insa-dong, I decided to return the next day. I have made up my mind to get a custom-made stone seal engraving, a traditional form of art whose origin dates back to the Shang Dynasty (1600 – 1050 BC), China. This stone seal engraving will serve as a special memento of my first visit to Seoul, aside from a country mug I have been collecting.
Myung Sin Dang Pil Bang is an artist’s haven. An art wonderland. If you have a knack for anything sweet, this will be your candy shop around the corner. Myung Sin Dang Pil Bang sells art supplies, like art books, papers and pigments; traditional calligraphy tools, like Chinese inks, and brushes of all sizes; and other seal engraving materials, like ink and engraving stones. Inside the shop, you’ll find two workshop tables for stone seal engraving, aside from shelves of art supplies. The walls are decorated with traditional calligraphy paintings, artworks and framed photos of celebrated people, from royalties to heads of states, who visited the shop. Myung Sin Dang Pil Bang is run and managed by well-known master artists in calligraphy and carving, Lee Si Kyu and Kim Ayung, a husband, and wife team. I chance upon Myung Sin Dang Pil Bang while looking for other shops catering to custom-made stone seal engravings. Unlike other art shops who pre-embellished their stones with pop culture designs, Myung Sin Dang Pil Bang offers a traditional design that makes it timeless, simple yet elegant.
We were fortunate that day when master artist Kim Ayung was there. She welcomed us and offered some coffee. After I chose my stone for engraving, I hand it over to her and she personally worked on it immediately. She first sanded the surface of the stone where my name will appear. Then, master artist Kim Ayung started to draft my name in Korean. After a few sketches and character refinement, the carving process commence. I saw master artist Kim Ayung diligently worked on my stone seal while I watched her attentively. From sketching to carving, master artist Kim Ayung finished it with less than an hour with serenity and finesse. Her hands were so delicate and light. The process seems so simple to her, carving on a stone was like writing on a paper. It was really a fortunate day to witness a living master artist working on something that you know is yours to keep.
After the carving, master artist Kim Ayung handed my stone seal to her male padawan for stamping. Like a tea ritual, stamping the seal with a seal paste on a paper is a ritual on its own. To finish off, the last marker was been placed to signify the “face” of my stone seal. The engraved word means “happiness,” which what I’ve felt when I had my stone seal engraving on my hands.
Not only did I have a custom-made stone seal engraving for myself, I asked my significant other to have one as well. And so she did. That time, it was master artist Kim Ayung’s male padawan did my significant other’s stone seal. Again, it was such a sheer pleasure watching such a sublime process again from start to finish.
Every custom-made stone seal engraving is placed in a customized satin- or velvet-covered gift box, and even a combination of both linens with a traditional latch-closure. Every gift box’s design pattern differ from piece to piece. So, no two gift boxes are alike. While the seal paste is sold separately and comes in two sizes, packaged in decorated porcelain dishes. It also stored in a satin- or velvet-covered box.
I believed that every destination one has been, there is a lone gem that will stand out among the gems. And my trip to Insa-dong market, particularly at Myung Sin Dang Pil Bang, is the highlight of my first visit to Seoul. Like Hansel, I came out with small chests of precious stone seal engravings and a smile on my face.