Lee Jung Seop Street in Seogwipo City, home to a multitude of diverse eateries and stores, is also where one can find a truly unique little shop featuring art inspired by the famous Korean oil painter Lee Jung Seop. The husband and wife team Jang Chang Seop and Lee Mi Kyung, greet customers warmly as visitors enter their cozy and adorable shop called Jung Seop Gongbang.
Jang, a metal crafts artist, and his wife Lee, a jewelry making and shop operations extraordinaire, offer visitors over 70 artistic items, many of which are inspired by the late Lee Jung Seop. Opening on Christmas Eve 2010, Jung Seop Gongbang has a vast array of metal art merchandise including wall decor, pendant necklaces, bracelets, candle holders, sculptures, key chains, mirrors, purses, and more. It’s hard to walk past the colorfully painted store without noticing it and taking a peek, and the shop is decorated in such a way that each item has a chance to shine and hail prospective customers.
Prior to opening on Jeju Island, both Jang and Lee lived in Seoul. After Jang graduated from Dongyang Technical College in 1976 [now Dongyang Mirae University], he opened his own shop in Seoul, Han Gil (meaning “my only purpose”) where he worked on his metal art for several years. In 1988, Jang and Lee met through a YWCA program that sets up meetings between disabled and non-disabled people. Jang volunteered with helping disabled people eat or move on a regular basis, and that’s how he got to know Lee who was the vice president of the association at the time. It wasn’t long before the two fell in love and in 1989 married.
That same year, Jang saw one of Lee Jung Seop’s paintings in Insa-dong, Seoul. The painting was of a sleeping boy who had just caught a fish, and it made him happy and inspired him to discover more about the artist. He bought the artwork for 30,000 won, which was a lot of money for them at the time, and his quest then took him to the national library where he found around 700 paintings from Lee Jung Seop. After his extensive research and stumbling upon another metal artist who portrayed Lee’s art through imprinting on sheet metal, Jang became inspired. He returned to Insa-dong and visited Namdaemun Market to speak to art stores about his ideas. They said, “If you make these pieces, bring it to us and we will buy it for a great price.”
Jang then shifted his artistic focus to expressing Lee Jung Seop’s art through metal craft. He feels a connection with Lee’s art because they express a strong theme of life. For example, in one of his wooden paintings, a family is working together on their farm. In another painting, a family is depicted as going on a picnic. They’re a poor family and they do not have a car, so they use their cow and trailer for transport.
In 2000, Jang and his wife Lee moved to Gangwon province. After living there for about 10 years, they decided they did not want to freeze any more during the winter and made the move to Jeju Island in November of 2010. Jang saw this as an opportunity to not only move to a scenic island but also to open a shop near the Lee Jung Seop Museum and help promote his favorite artist.
“Since I’ve come to this street,” said Jang, “I’ve tried to promote Lee Jung Seop. My mind is filled with the idea about how I can let the people who love culture and art know of Lee Jung Seop’s art. I want to decorate this shop beautifully like Lee Jung Seop’s life. I want to show the visitors good art.”
It took about a month to prepare Jung Seop Gongbang for its grand opening. Jang renovated the shop with a lot of personal touches including a hole in the wall inside the shop, creating a small window between two rooms. This is common in traditional houses in the Gangwon and Jeju provinces because these regions are so windy. By having a hole in the wall, it is much easier to open doors when it’s especially windy. Jang also feels it makes rooms more interesting and it has become a focal point in the store.
Jang gets a lot of pleasure from reusing old items for his work, such as wood from traditional houses that have been demolished. He said that by using this weathered wood, which cannot be manufactured, his work is given a more authentic feel. “Things like this [wooden mirror],” Jang said, “I can revitalize it. If I didn’t reuse this, it would become just wood, but it became an art.”
Jang also created a character design named Gyuri, mixing the image of the 12 Asian zodiac signs and Jeju mandarin. Another one is Monggu, with the image of a horse. “Mong” is from Mongsaengi, referring to a Jeju traditional horse and “Gu” means nine, which is the number of gifts the horse gives people. Jang said the horse's gifts are horse oil; horse meat; horse bones; leather; transportation; a horse tail for making hats; horse hair for making paint brushes and crafts; medicine; and materials for making traditional Korean instruments.
Customers at Jung Seop Gongbang include locals, Olle walkers, and island tourists who regularly visit the shop when they’re in Seogwipo.
“Our shop has been a resting place for Olle trailers,” said Lee. “Among them are people who [experience emotional hardship], and I talk with them and give them advice. I wish this place would be where people not only enjoy the arts but also recover.”
Lee recalled a family of four who visited the shop several years ago.
“It could have been their last trip because the husband was suffering from lung cancer. The wife said that she envies us saying, ‘You are in a wheel chair but you are alive [and will live longer than my husband].’ I was very sad to hear that and prayed for the husband,” she said.
“Fortunately it was not their last trip and they came to us again. However, last week, the family came again but this time without the husband. The wife looked very sad. She considers this shop a hometown in her heart. Whenever she came to Jeju, she stayed [close to this shop]. Like her, visitors [like this place] and don’t want to leave. I think there is good energy [here] and I want to share it with others.”
Jung Seop Gongbang
Hours: 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Address: 511-3, Jeongbang-dong, Seogwipo City
Note: In addition to selling art, the shop offers a hands-on craft art picture making program for anyone over the age of seven. The fee is 40,000 won.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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