▲ Some of the paper artwork on display at Kim Kyung’s Paper Museum. Photo by Anne Hilty
Kim Kyung is passionate about ‘hanji’.
The 89-year old collector from Seoul, who now makes her home in the art community of Jeoji Village not far from Hallim, feels it was fate that led her there.
Jeoji is home to many mulberry trees from which Korea’s traditional paper called ‘hanji’ is made, and the village has a history of paper production, prompting Kim to feel that she was meant to settle there in this, her final phase of life.
Kim came to live on Jeju several years ago with her husband, now deceased. They resided in Nohyeong-dong of Jeju City for their first 4 years, where she ran a studio and academy dedicated to the visual art of drawing, one of her many talents.
It is for her antique paper collection, however, that she is renowned.
Kim became an avid collector during the 1960s, traveling extensively throughout the Korean peninsula in search of such artwork at a time when a majority of Koreans were impoverished. The nation was devastated and attempting to rebuild its economy in the aftermath of the war.
She also served on the board of directors of the National Folk Museum for 25 years. Beyond her passion for paper art, she is devoted to folk art and cultural heritage in general. She has a keen sense of art, and cares deeply about the master artists and craftspeople of Jeju Island.
In 2007, Kim published a book detailing her collection, the title of which translates as, “Paper Museum: The Story.” Packed with photos, it is published in Korean only.
In that same year, she made an initial visit to Yang Soonja, fashion designer and owner of Mongsengee Galot Fashion in Myeongwol Village, with what would seem an unusual request: two paper samples in hand, she asked Yang to create unique designs for clothing to be made of paper.
In actuality, this is another of Korea’s traditional crafts, and together they worked to create a show of paper fashion, the benefits of which were donated to the traditional Haenyeo [Diving Women] School in Gwideok Village.
Kim returned to visit Yang at her home in the Jeoji artist community, and as they built a close bond she became determined to build a home and gallery there for herself, both of which she has since achieved.
Her ‘Paper Museum’ opened on October 27 of this year, near Jeoji’s Contemporary Art Museum and adjacent to her home. In the manner of exclusive boutiques, it is open only on the second Sunday of each month from 2-4pm, the collection viewed by reservation.
In her advanced age, Kim is considering the future home of her legacy. Known for giving frequent gifts of antique paper art to visiting artists, celebrities and others who capture her interest, she is also somewhat notorious for demanding the return of a gift if she feels it is not being cared for in a respectful manner. Determining the next caretaker for her collection is a Herculean task.
Kim is noted for her networking — her ability to gather around her a vast array of artists, writers, craftspeople, heritage specialists, and intellectuals. In the manner of the salons of prewar Europe, she connects to and exchanges ideas with many, remaining socially engaged despite her years. Well-traveled and globally minded, she has a keen sense of art in its many forms and human vessels, and to the end of her days she is maintaining her life’s passion.
Kim, by her collection, her own artistic skill, and her unfailing interest in others, not only maintains this precious Korean art form, but also shares it with the world.
Dr. Hilty is a cultural health psychol-ogist from New York who now makes Jeju Island her home.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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