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Winter’s bamboo gives way to cherry blossomsMarking spring’s beginning at the Jeju Folk Village Museum
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승인 2011.02.12  01:45:14
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▲ The Jeju Folk Village Museum included a samulnori musical performance in its Ipchun/Seollal exhibition. Photo by Alpha Newberry

This year’s Seollal (Lunar New Year) celebrations came with an added bonus. Feb. 4, the day after the New Year, was not only one of the first temperate Jeju days in recent memory, but it was also the official beginning of spring, or Ipchun. There were a number of special events held on Jeju to mark this and Seollal. One, put on by the Jeju Folk Village Museum, near Pyoseon, Seogwipo, provided the Jeju Weekly with some insight into Korean art and holiday traditions.

The folk village put on a special exhibition, which included traditional kite-making, calligraphy, painting, drumming, and games. Tourists, from the mainland and China among other places, and locals alike took advantage of the beautiful weather to experience various aspects of traditional Jeju life. Kang Te Shil, a Jeju native, was touring with her sister-in-law from Ulsan, and like many visitors to the folk village, she was watching Hyun Tai Kyu, resident painter, create for her a work of art that would welcome the spring. “Cherry blossoms are for spring. Bamboo is for winter,” he said as he painted.

Hyun has been painting for 30 years and runs Jeju Folk Village Museum’s “painter’s house.” He can be found there, practicing his art publicly, on most days that the folk village is open. “Drawing in front of a lot of people is very very hard. It’s like war because people don’t know who I am,” he said. Perhaps Kang was exaggerating. If he felt like his life were being threatened, he hardly showed it. His brush strokes showed no hesitation. When asked how he learned to paint, he replied simply, “I taught myself.”

“I have drawn more than a thousand paintings for an event. Once I pick up the brush, I cannot leave. That’s how I got better,” said Kang. He continued to say that quantity and quality may not be mutually exclusive: “In the past, bad artists drew pictures here. Now they have judges. If the artist isn’t good enough, they can’t draw for tourists.”

Another of the four artists in residence at the Jeju Folk Village Museum was Choi Soo Sung, a painter and calligrapher, who gave out writing designed to bring good luck in the new year. Choi started calligraphy some 60 years ago, when he was in elementary school. He has his own studio near the folk village and comes for special events such as this. “Wishes that the first day of spring will be the great lucky day,” was his message for a happy Ipchun.

The traditional kites offered at the Jeju Folk Village Museum may have lacked the authenticity provided by Kang and Choi. According to Robert Neff’s article on Seollal [“Lunar New Year in Joseon Korea,” Issue 42], powdered glass was a must for young kite-battlers of old. Aerial war was not to be found, but the children seemed to enjoy themselves nonetheless, also playing yutnori, paengichigi, jegi-chagi, and guleongsoe.

As for Hyun, Ipchun, if not necessarily a lucky time, is definitely an easier time. Bamboo, for winter, is much more difficult to paint than cherry blossoms, for spring. “There are not many artists in history who can draw bamboo stems well. It looks simple, but it’s really difficult ... Once in a blue moon you can see a good bamboo drawing,” he said. Lucky for him that Jeju’s cherry blossoms are right around the corner.

(Interpretation by Gong Jinhee)

Jeju Folk Village Museum
Pyoseon-ri, Pyoseon-myeon, Seogwipo City

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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