Quiet village gains fame as artists’ colony

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Quiet village gains fame as artists’ colony

MUAN COUNTY ― Across from a rice field in Wolseon-ri, Muan county, South Jeolla province, a jangseung (traditional Korean totem pole) and sotdae (traditional Korean spirit pole) greet visitors at the entrance to the village. Past a traditional schoolhouse and a ceramic workshop, construction of a woodworking art exhibition hall is going on in back of a straw-roofed house.
A typical rural village with a mere 400 inhabitants has been transformed into an artists’ colony, bustling with tourists from all over the country. It was the arrival of ceramic artist Kim Mun-ho, known to the residents as the “village chief,” that changed everything.
A native of Mokpo, Mr. Kim learned to make Buncheong (early Joseon Dynasty style) ware in Gwangju before moving to the village in the spring of 1990.
He was attracted to the village by its proximity to his home and because houses could be bought cheaply there. As he devoted his time to making celadon and baking pottery, he felt the need to make the village feel like home and introduce culture to the residents.
In the beginning, his neighbors thought of him as a “madman,” seeing him walking around in his bare feet, sporting a ponytail.
“I thought earning the villagers’ trust came first, so I greeted them and asked questions about farming, and tried hard to build friendships with all my neighbors.” Mr. Kim said.
In 1995, he led a successful campaign against the construction of a waste disposal facility in the village.
He also asked fellow artists to move into the village to work with him. Over time, he was joined by ceramic artist Yoon Suk-jung, painters Park In-soo, Jung Gu-eul and Kim Seok-jun, weaver Min Kyung and poet Kim Dae-ho. Mr. Park even opened the village’s traditional schoolhouse. Now, 15 artists live in Wolseon-ri.
Park Dong-suk, 58, head of Wolseon-ri’s second district, said, “The village became lively after the formation of the artists’ colony. I am confident that this will be the best artists’ village in which to live in the entire country.”
In the autumn of 2003, a 198-square-meter (2,131-square-foot) craft shop was built, and crafts such as straw art, woodworking and quilting were taught to the villagers. In April 2004, an exhibition by Mr. Kim and five residents was held at the Cheonggye-myun office, and a Peach and Apricot Blossom Festival was hosted as well.
With a budget of 60 million won ($60,000) from their own pockets, they built a rice-paddy-shaped amphitheater with a stage in the form of a traditional straw-roofed house, as well as the jangseung and sotdae at the main gate. An aquatic plant observatory was created, and a greenhouse was purchased for use as art classrooms.
Last month, over 5,000 visitors a day came to the village’s Muan Buncheong Culture Festival.
The Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs recently selected the village to receive government support to enhance the use of information technology. Over 40 artists, including Korean classical musicians, are on a waiting list to move into the village, since no houses are available at the moment.
Resident Park Dae-yoon, 47, noted, “Living with artists as neighbors, I am now able to enjoy various exhibitions and performances that I could not have imagined before.”

by Cheon Chang-hwan
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