STONEMASON JO HWAN-JIN: DOLBITNA SCHOOL OF ART
What does stone mean to the Jeju people?
The people of Jeju have been greatly influenced by stones in their lives and culture. It was hard work to remove all the stones from the fields to start farming. It was close to disaster. But in the end, stones protected the people of the island. Building a batdam with selected stones protected crops, houses were built with stone, stone walls protected people’s lives from enemies, and they also gave protection from typhoons and harsh winds.
Is it true that the nature of the stones varies greatly from region to region?
Stones found in the east are harder and stronger. There are a lot of small pebbles in the west, so root plants cannot be grown. Instead, vegetables that grow above the ground are grown, like cabbage, broccoli, and barley. In the east, there is much volcanic ash and sand, so crops that dig into the ground like carrots and radishes are cultivated.
Do you have any interesting stories about stones?
There are foreign masons I communicate with, and they are surprised when I tell them that half of the dolmens in the world are in Korea. In English, they are called “dolmen”, but when I tell them that the word for stone in Korean is “dol” they’re even more surprised. They’re also fascinated by the sandam stone fence that is built around our tombs. In their countries, it’s not common to put stones on nobles' tombs, but rather, they are placed on the average citizen’s grave. In other countries, stone-made structures have disappeared or have become ruins, but in Jeju, many masons are surprised that Jeju’s batdam, wondam, and sandam are still being used in daily life.
Also, foreign stone temples and pyramids are all relics of the past, but in Jeju, these relics are still being used today. Stone warehouses, stone houses, stone tools, and batdam are all very unique. Many of Jeju’s stone walls are built up 1 meter to 2 meters high, and they wonder if it won’t collapse. Basalt has great surface friction and these walls do not collapse due to the great skill that the people have acquired.
What are the characteristics of Jeju stones?
Because Jeju stones are made of hardened lava, each stone has a different shape and feel. In other countries, similar-looking stones are stacked together, like bricks. In Jeju, you must study the land to find which type of stone will work best. It takes a lot of skill to be able to pick out the right stones.
I heard that your father is also a stonemason?
My profession is dolchaengi. It is a term for people who live and breathe stones. In standard language, it is what we call a stonemason. You must have stamina and dexterity. It’s a pity that it’s not a popular line of work these days. It’s hard work. A work made of stone is a work of art that lasts for many years. This stone wall can last ten thousand years. It's an inexhaustible art. I hope to one day see the world recognize dolchaengis as artists.