Delicate hand-sewn Korean window coverings, baby blankets and gifts hanging from bamboo rods fill the Sandy Spring Museum’s Dr. Byrd Room, exhibit hall and Farquhar Gallery during September. The exhibit, “My Life: Marks of a Needle,” on view through Sunday, Sept. 23, features pieces made in the traditional manner as well as more modern pieces, all flown in from Korea.
These contemporary examples of traditional Korean embroidery are the work of artist In-Sook Park, who traveled from Korea to see the exhibit and answer questions about her work during an artist reception as part of the museum’s Korean Culture Day on Saturday, Sept. 22, 1 to 5 p.m. The afternoon will feature performances and workshops by students of the metropolitan area-based Peace Mission Korean Dance Group.
“In-Sook is very excited to share her story and the Korean culture with everyone,” said Julie JooHee Harper, who transmitted CultureSpotMC.com’s questions during a telephone conversation with her aunt. “She is especially excited to share the artwork with her daughters, who will be accompanying her on the trip.”
Park has shown her work in the U.S. once before, at the Montgomery County Executive Office Building, in conjunction with the 2017 celebration of Korean American Day.
Korean women have been using leftover scraps of silk and brocade from dresses and other garments to make quilt-like embroidery since the late 14th century. The quilted patchworks were historically used as wrapping cloths – covering sacred texts, food or as clothing for a loved one. The skill involved in the technique, called Gyu Bang Gong Yeh, is passed down from mother to daughter. A mother would summon all the female family members together to work on different pieces of embroidery for her daughter’s wedding gown.
A red wedding robe Park decorated with elaborate gold embellishments, birds and flowers is displayed on one wall of the exhibit. The embroidery represents wealth and social power.
Traditionally, many embroidered items were sent as wedding gifts or were part of the dowry when a woman married. Examples of embroidered baby booties, chopstick cases, table coverings, dresses and other everyday items are on display. Each reveals a rich color pallet and fine needlework.
Park sewed all the artwork by hand, a labor-intensive process. Each of the more than 50 pieces in the show serves a specific purpose. “Each of the items was put together while In-Sook was grieving the loss of her mother and thinking of her relationship with her own daughters,” Harper said. “The different colors and textures of the pieces represent the seasons and emotions of In-Sook as she slowly grieved.” She made the baby blanket for her first grandchild, a traditional gift from a maternal grandmother to a grandchild.
Park first became interested in Korean embroidery in 1999. She was drawn to the beautiful colors and the intricate fabrics and textures that could be stitched together to create a work of art. Her mother, Young-Soon Kim, was also a talented artist. Park honed her craft at the Sung Shin Women’s University, where she earned a certificate as a licensed artist in Korean Traditional Embroidery in 2008.
“Artist Park plans to pass down her artwork and embroidery skills to her own daughters in hopes that they will one day think of their time together after she has passed — just as she did with her own mother,” Harper said.
Joung-Sook Park, the artist’s sister, who directs the Peace Mission Korean Dance Group, asked the museum to host the art show. The Sandy Spring Museum is always open to suggestions from the community for exhibits, said Allison Weiss, the museum’s executive director. “We look for these community-generated ideas,” she said. “We provide the space and infrastructure to support an exhibit.”
“In-Sook hopes that her artwork will be an opportunity for Korean-American youth to learn more about the Korean culture and the many beautiful different arts that are forgotten in the modern times,” Harper said.
“My Life: Marks of Needle” is on view through Sunday, Sept. 23, at the Sandy Spring Museum, 17901 Bentley Road, Sandy Spring. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. An artist reception will be held Saturday, Sept. 22, 4 to 5 p.m., as part of the museum’s Korean Culture Day activities. Admission is free. Call 301-774-0022 or visit sandyspringmuseum.org.