Posted : 2012-11-05 16:22
Updated : 2012-11-05 16:22

Wooden figurines reborn from scraps to artworks

Han Myung-chul, a wood sculptor, holds an exhibition titled "Ho Ho Ho Tigers" at Kokdu Museum in Daehangno, Seoul, through Dec. 30.
/ Courtesy of Kokdu Museum
"A Smiling Tiger"

By Chung Ah-young

Tigers in traditional Korean folk tales are portrayed either as evil animals that threaten children or dim-witted creatures often fooled by people. For Han Myung-chul, a wood sculptor, tigers are adorable and humorous beings. He imbues humor and wit, instead of fear, into his wooden tigers which smile or have wings on their backs.
"An Angel Candidate"

Not only tigers but also various kinds of animals, children and angels are expressed in the artist's imagination in the ongoing exhibition "Ho Ho Ho Tigers" at Kokdu Museum in Daehangno, Seoul.

Featuring some 150 pieces of wooden figurines Han crafted over the past decade, the exhibition will run through Dec. 30. "I took a careful look at my precious ones again before showcasing them. They are what I have dreamt, watched and loved through my life. I found the materials on the street and they are reborn as meaningful figurines from wood scraps. I am grateful for them," the artist wrote on his message of the exhibition.

Wood sculptor Han Myung-chul

The sculptor doesn't cut or purchase trees to secure the materials; he recycles wooden pieces found on the streets or picks up pieces from dead trees.

"I reinvent the meaningless wooden objects thrown on the streets as artworks and feel the rare qualities of the woods as they are and get inspirations from them. The wooden pieces on the street are a wonderful medium for art," Han also said in a press release.

The sculptor creates special, humorous titles for his works such as a "Horse Moving a Gourd of Heungbu (folk tale character)," a "Giraffe Carrying Mountains" and a "Crocodile Eating a Half Moon" and an "Angel Candidate," evoking childhood nostalgia.

His subjects vary from animals to human beings, such as a pregnant woman who is inspired by her pregnant niece, to a man wearing a glove only on one hand in a comical gesture.

"Our museum has a large number of ‘kokdu' (wooden figurines designed for driving off evil spirits mostly adorned on traditional biers) in its collection. Kokdu were made by unknown artists in the past and they are a form of street art. Han's works are also made from wooden materials particularly from the streets, sharing the traditional values of kokdu," an official of the museum, said.

A retired banker, Han pursued his banking career alongside sculpturing for about 30 years. Since retiring, he has not only created the sculptures but also given art lectures to children.

The exhibition also offers various experience programs in cooperation with the museum. Visitors can take a class on making wooden figurines.

The artist's working desk, which shows his tools and materials, is installed in a corner of the exhibition hall to help visitors understand the process of making the figurines.

The museum holds some 20,000 kokdu, which have been collected over a period of more than 30 years by director Kim Ock-rang. It is located on the second floor of the Dongsoong Art Center with two exhibition halls, an education area and an art shop. Opening hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Admission is 5,000 won for adults. For more information, call (02) 766-3315 or visit

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