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Engraving the Korean Spirit into Wood Updated: 2010-12-01 00:00:00 KST

Yeoju, in Gyeonggi Province, is a place breathing with history along the banks of the South Han River.

In this peaceful place, where migratory birds fly about at ease, there is an artisan who is passionately devoted to bringing life to traditional wood sculptures.

Park Chan-su, wood sculptor, has spent the last fifty years breathing and living with wood, giving form to the Korean spirit.

[Interview : Park Chan-su , Wood Sculptor and Director of the Mok-a Buddhist Museum
Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 108
] "I have always considered wood sculpting my calling, and I have loved wood like my own life. I have worked my entire life to become an artist that adds aesthetic beauty to wood, so that people looking at my work can have more beautiful hearts."

His works do not try to hide the rough surface of the wood or the raw scarring from the carving knife. There is no arrogance and no technical flourishes.

The bold lines and delicate patterns of his semi-abstract style present a modern sophistication.

[Interview : ] "I hope to create art that gives comfort to people of all ethnicities and all religions. I hope that I can make at least one such work before the end of my career."

Park first began sculpting at age 12, to help support his family.

In his mid-20s, Park entered the world of Buddhist art and began in earnest to devote himself to reviving traditional techniques. In 1996, he was designated Korea's first mokjogakjang , or wood sculptor.

[Interview : ] "My wood sculptures and I are not separate, but one. I have lived with the belief that I cannot exist without my wood sculptures."



In order to share traditional wood sculpting and Buddhist art with more people, he opened a museum.

Established in 1989, the museum exhibits 6,000 pieces of Buddhist art, including his own works and his private collection of Buddhist artifacts.

[Interview : ] "I collected historically significant artifacts so that I could see Korean culture more accurately. As I collected more items, I came to think that I should share my collection with other people and help to instill love for Korean culture into people's hearts. That is how I began my museum."

He comes by the museum whenever he can to talk to visitors about Korean Buddhism and traditional wood sculpting.


[Interview : ] "The theme of this piece is "Buddha speaks." He began by asking, "Who am I[Interview : Jeong Mi-jin, Visitor
] "I was surprised by this particular piece because I had never seen a Buddha statue laughing before. It's refreshing and comforting to see a laughing Buddha . It's awesome."

[Interview : Seonghwa, Visitor
] "I think the museum would be a great help to raising awareness about Korean culture and Korean Buddhism. I hope that more and more Koreans will come to treasure and love their traditions."

Every morning, at six, Park's work start with the thorough examination of log pieces. In order to create a unique and beautiful wood sculpture, there is no other step as important as checking and selecting the correct piece of wood.

[Interview : ] "The standard for choosing wood is different with each piece, so it is most important to check the grooves on the wood."

Wood sculpting is a process of breathing new life into natural wood. The work must be done with the utmost dedication from beginning to end.

The past fifty years seem to be reflected on the experienced movements of his hands.

[Interview : ] "A wood sculptor needs to be able to see through the wood. Sculptors can only produce good pieces when they are completely unified with the wood. I make sure to stay alert while handling my tools, and work with the mindset that I am training my soul."

His work, requiring the concentration of mind and body, is infused with Buddha's love and spirit of sharing.

For the past decade, Park has also been working to teach future wood sculptors.

He says that his true duty as wood sculptor is to help continue the tradition of wood sculpting techniques to posterity.


[Interview : ] "You have to know everything about each piece of work. A sculpture without meaning is a piece without life."

[Interview : Park U-myeong, Son of Park Chan-su and apprentice
] "I think that the appeal of wood sculpting lies in the wood itself. Dead wood is revived when it is made into a work of art that inspires life, and becomes the object of respect and faith of many. Knowing that fact makes me maintain a pure and respectful attitude when I am working."

In the early mornings, he sometimes meditates in order to get inspiration for his pieces.

The more he lets himself go through deep meditation, the more Buddha's teachings take root in his heart. Sculptures that are born from this state of mind are also reflections of his soul.

[Interview : Park Chan-su , Wood Sculptor and Director of the Mok-a Buddhist Museum
Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 108
] "When I meditate, I can clear my mind and gather all my thoughts into one. I meditate as often as I can. I hope that the beauty of traditional Korean culture will be known throughout the world and will give happiness to everyone."

Park Chan-su took the road less taken, determined to protect and continue a beautiful tradition.

The pieces of wood bearing shape at his fingertips reflect on his passion for tradition and his unchanging pride of Korean Buddhist culture.
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