Passionate bug collector opens museumA crowd of 50 guests leans in to examine the finely patterned wings of a gorgeous black and violet butterfly. A teenage boy from Daegu cannot hide his amazement. “I didn’t know there were so many types of insects,” says Son Kyu-won, 14.
Standing next to the glass case, Lee Dae-am, curator of the Yongwal Insectarium, nods with satisfaction. It was a similar curiosity that led him to catalogue bugs and renovate this old schoolhouse into Korea’s only insect museum, located in the sleepy village of Mungok-li, Gangwon province.
Formerly a professor of architecture and the vice dean of Saekyung College in nearby Yeongwol, Mr. Lee quit his day job to build the museum, which opened in May 2005. In addition to having a doctoral degree in architecture from the University of Sidney in Australia, Mr. Lee is also an unofficial expert in insect ecology. His attraction to bugs has been a life-long passion.
“I once caught a butterfly when I was a freshman in college, and since then I have been engrossed in collecting bugs. When I didn't have classes, I traveled around Seoul and Gyeonggi province to find them.”
While managing work and teaching over the years, he continued to explore Korea's highest mountains and remote streams to collect bugs. He quit work at a construction firm to move to Saekyung College simply because “the Yeongwol area consists of limestone which makes it a treasure house for insects,” he said. In March 2000, the county granted him the abandoned schoolhouse and he invested 150 million won ($147,000) of his own money to build the museum.
He renovated three classrooms and the hallway, which now constitute the exhibition space. The museum is equipped with an aquarium, a research center and a video screening room. On exhibition are nearly 3,000 specimens of 1,000 insect types, which he has collected over the years.
As the curator, he travels more than 20 days a month to places like Jeju Island in order to collect insects and preserve the specimens.
In the short term, Mr. Lee plans to add an interactive exhibit of live insects. Currently, most of the exhibits are preserved, while a few living samples of endangered species are maintained in a special area.
Going forward, he dreams of “the industrialization of insect resources,” transforming Yeongwol County into an industrial city based on insect sales, the production of souvenirs or processed goods, programs that offer firsthand experiences and various events. Last year, he began by establishing a research center for insects, nature and ecology, also located inside the museum.
by Hong Chang-eop