▲ Left, the interior of the museum. Top center, the museum director Myeong Yeon Sook. Bottom center, one of the displayed seashell art pieces. Photos courtesy The World Seashell Museum
With her new museum, a local artist is trying to prove that some of the best artwork comes ready-made from the ocean. The World Seashell Museum showcases what the director believes is “nature’s best gift.”
Located just outside of the city, near Oedolgae, the museum has over 30,000 varieties of shells from around the world, all handpicked by the museum’s director, Myeong Yeon Sook. The shells are displayed in elaborate art sculptures which place them on coral and bronze metal-work supports.
Some of the rarer shells on display include the “Babel Tower” gastropod seashell, which is valued at over 3 million won, and a group of shells which resemble a fish skeleton or a comb.
“I like the seashell’s colors most of all,” said Song Hyun Am, a vice-director at the museum. “Humans cannot make these colors.”
The museum is run by Director Myeong Yeon Sook and the other vice-director Kwon Oh Kyun, two relatives who’d been working together on the art for six years. “When Mr. Kwon came to Jeju for business, he saw I was making seashell art,” Myeong said. “He praised my work highly and was willing to make the bronze supports. It was the start. At that time, I was thinking of building a gallery, but I changed my mind to make a seashell art museum.”
Myeong says that she has been collecting shells for over 30 years, even at times risking storms and fast tides to collect rare specimens.
“I’m the person who goes to Hwasun beach at 5 a.m. to get just one or two thin seashells which can be broken even in a wind. You can never do that if you are not crazy about seashells.”
According to Myeong, Jeju has the most beautiful and colorful seashells of any of the places she has visited. The museum has over 500 different kinds of seashells native to Jeju. The sea has always been an important part of Jeju’s history, and she hopes that “nature’s gift will help contribute to the development of Jeju art culture.”
The seashell museum opened in February, and everything from the bathroom to the staircases incorporates the artwork of the two directors. The first and second floors display small and large seashells, respectively, while the third floor includes Western-style oil paintings done by Myeong. On the first floor there is also a café, gift shop, and a workshop room where guests at the museum can make their own seashell art for 10,000 won. Guests are given a painted wooden box and a collection of shells from which to choose, to attach in a display inside. The museum is also offering experimental programs including drawing seashells and flowers, and making bronze corsages.
“At first, when the locals first heard about the museum, they thought, ‘what is so special about seashells?’” Song Hyun Am said. “But when they came to the museum, and saw it themselves, they saw it was art, not just seashells, and they reported the museum to their acquaintances. Now, we have regular customers, including one person who has visited 15 times.”
Ron Noseworthy, a teacher and local expert on ocean biology and seashells, had high praise for the museum. “Usually the thing about these museums is there’s not much to them,” Noseworthy said. “But I was really impressed with this one. I liked the layout, and all the copper work.” He also commended the quality of the specimens and the fact that even with the diversity of the collection, most were properly identified.
Seashells are formed by a family of animals known as mollusks. According to Noseworthy, mollusks are the second largest phylum of animals next to arthropods. The mantle of the mollusk lays down layer after layer of the minerals, usually calcium carbonate or aragonite. Once the shell reaches a certain size, the animal usually dies or is eaten by predators.
“I want people to know that a seashell is the best reward nature gave us,” Myeong Yeon Sook said. “It seems that flowers bloom on the shell in spring, the sound of sea waves come out of the shell in the summer, the fall foliage comes out in autumn, and snow in winter. I want to show the beauty of shells to people and to change their mind [about them].”
(Interpretation by Kim Jung Lim)
World Seashell Museum Address: 557-1 Seohong-dong, Seogwipo City Phone: 064-762-5551 www.wsmuseum.co.kr
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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