Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Donation can enrich museum and nation

From designer hats, stylish shoes and interesting books to fancy umbrellas and traditional costumes, various personal items dating back from the 1910s to 1980s have been donated by Sohn Kyung-ja, costume designer and scholar, to the National Folk Museum of Korea.

Her donation, comprising 550 pieces from her collection, is not made up of just objects but of memories connecting her with her parents and her past prime as a young trendsetter. Despite much attachment to the items, she contributed gladly to the museum to share them and her life with others.

“This museum is one of the best in the nation. It has a good collection of exhibits and a lot of visitors, especially foreigners. So I was very happy to donate the old items to the museum,” Sohn said in an interview with The Korea Times.
The 81-year-old is a retired professor who taught students in the home economics department and specialized in costumes studies at Sejong University from 1959 to 1995.

“The objects in my donation were used by me and my parents. I didn’t throw anything away because I consider all of them precious. So I have kept all the antique items until now,” she said.

Among her donations, a “hwalot” or bridal robe is her favorite item. The robe dates back to 1910. In a traditional wedding, a bride wore an elaborate topcoat with drooping sleeves over her other clothes. Similar to the costumes worn by queens and noblewomen of the time, the hwalot is flamboyantly embroidered with flowers symbolizing wealth, longevity and nobility.

Also, her works originally presented to the Korea Fashion Show in 1963, including a revamped “hanbok,” were donated to the museum. Her modernized hanbok, which was unusual at that time, features a short skirt and fancy colors patterned with stripes while maintaining the original form of the traditional beauty.

“The museum lacks a collection of antiques from the 1950s to 1980s, although it has many older items. So I hope my donation will show the trends and changes of fashion during that period,” she said.

Sohn lamented, however, that she could have donated more items if she hadn’t lost the rare and valuable costumes her mother made for her wedding during the Korean War (1950-53).

As a costume designer, she inherited her talent from her mother, who had excellent traditional dress-making skills.

“Some of my collections were made by my mother. Her clothes were created in a traditional way so that it shows an important moment of traditional Korean costumes,” she said.

“I think my possessions are very precious but I don’t think they should be owned and enjoyed only by my family. They should be shared by others. When the museum is enriched, the nation becomes rich, too.”

Sohn encouraged others to donate their valuable items to the museum but she said so far many are reluctant to do so.

“I think donation of items in Korea is still unpopular because people tend to keep things for themselves,” she said.

Her collection includes not only Korean antiques but also other Asian costumes and relics she collected as she traveled with the Korea Society of Costumes. She helped launch the organization in 1975 and participated in the international assembly every year from 1982.

“During that period when overseas travel was not as free as now, I had the privilege to travel to various countries for academic reasons. So I would collect various items in the countries I visited,” she said.

Among her overseas collection, folk costumes from the Miao ethnic group of China are some of the rarest items. Their costumes are richly adorned with silver, wrinkles and embroidery representing the wearer’s social status and wealth. The Miao have unique characteristics in accordance with the tribe and region. The making of the costumes requires a lot of time due to excessive embellishments.

“It’s some of the most beautiful clothing in Asia. The decorations and details are very distinguished and extraordinary,” she said.

Sohn said that since the museum aims to become a multicultural space for an increasing number of multicultural families in Korea, she decided to donate her Asian traditional costumes and accessories. Her Asian collection includes items from China, Mongolia, Japan and other countries.

The items are on display through Oct. 17.

Source: The Korea Times

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