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Seogwipo's Willy Wonka-like wonderlandArtist Kang Min Hee gives new life to old objects with her creative vision
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승인 2012.03.23  14:50:24
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▲ Artist Kang Min Hee and her creations Photos by Jessica Sicard

Tucked away amongst the side streets of Seogwipo City is a creative wonderland, an art studio showcasing the arts and crafts created by local artist Kang Min Hee. Kang has proven herself to be a jack of all art trades, from her hand painted hair tie accessories and napkin art to vibrant restaurant menus colored to perfection with pastels. It seems safe to say that this shy and quiet artist is one of Seogwipo’s hidden gems.

While Kang’s art studio is off the beaten path, it is hard to walk past her studio without peeking in should you end up in her neighborhood. Well lit with natural light and an interior almost as colorful and happy as Willy Wonka’s candy paradise, Kang’s studio is an instant crowd pleaser with an array of arts and crafts ranging from Korean cute overload to country kitchen.

Kang’s specialties include napkin art, an art form that involves using napkins as a design for wooden objects such as coat hangers, towel racks, card holders, mirror frames, and more. Kang gets a lot of personal satisfaction from this art as it permits her to give old, wooden objects a second life by sanding them down, fixing their imperfections, and revitalizing their appearance. She also paints other objects such as wine bottles, glass plates, candles, and fabric.

The studio is decked out in Kang’s Styrofoam art, Styrofoam objects that Kang shapes and paints herself. What is particularly fascinating about Kang’s Styrofoam art is it’s impossible to know it is created from Styrofoam just by looking at it. Several objects mounted on the studio walls are made from Styrofoam, such as bookshelves, bricks, a bulletin board, clocks, and adorable Korean wall décor galore.

While Kang offers a variety of beautiful and decorative items, her biggest source of revenue comes from making restaurant menus, wooden signs that she first paints black and then decorates with pastels giving it a strikingly colorful appearance that is so appealing one could simply make an afternoon of admiring her work.

Everything in Kang’s studio is for sale, and she also takes custom requests. For example, if a customer is interested in a Styrofoam wall clock but in a different color, Kang can paint a customized clock tailored to the customer’s satisfaction. Kang also gives art lessons, and her students are usually teachers who hope to give their classroom a fresh look, housewives pursuing their hobbies or art students at Jeju National University.

While Kang is now an established working artist in Seogwipo, it wasn’t an easy journey. As a child, Kang was passionate about art and won several competitions at school, but coming from a large family with three siblings, Kang was unable to nurture her skills through art lessons due to budgetary restrictions. As the years went on, Kang continued drawing and painting as a hobby, but it wasn’t until she spent several years as a housewife and felt a little bit blue that she decided to do something for herself.

In March 2009, Kang began taking an art class through a program at Home Plus. She quickly became a serious art student and began taking private lessons, dedicating every spare minute to improving her craft. The cost of paints, pencils, paper, and other art supplies were expensive at the rate Kang was using them, but this didn’t stop her because she had transformed into an art learning and producing machine. Her efforts were rewarded in March 2010 when she opened her own art studio, Haemil Art.

Kang feels that she has finally found the balance she seeks in life, working in a field that she is passionate about that is also flexible enough so she can continue to be a good wife and care for her two sons. “This job is attractive because I can still be a good mother. Whenever my family needs me, I can be there for them,” Kang said. “I no longer feel blue because I can socialize with my students, meet friends, drink coffee, and have fun during the day. “

When Kang is not working and spending time with friends and family, she is studying English so she can one day travel to Canada and Indonesia.

Special thanks goes out to Song Yeon Jung for translating this interview.

Haemil Art (Kang Min Hee)
Donghongdong 96-3, Seogwipo City
Phone: 064-733-0787
Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. / closed Sunday

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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