Attending Schweinfurth Art center’s annual Quilting by the Lake conference this month is a dream come true for Wonju Seo, who won a highly competitive Fiber Artist Fellowship to participate.
“My dream studio has one side that’s all glass windows, a high ceiling, and is a big space so I can spread out my work,” Seo said. “Here I have a studio exactly like that!”
Seo was among 28 people who applied for the fellowship, said Davana Robedee, the Schweinfurth’s program coordinator. “We chose Wonju because she showed a lot of versatility in her work and had large, beautiful installations,” Robedee said.
Robedee said Seo is the first Fiber Arts Fellow, but the Schweinfurth hopes to continue offering the full scholarship fellowship every year.
Seo was born and raised in South Korea, which she describes as a very patriarchal society where girls were held to strict rules. “My father was just trying to protect me. I was the only girl; I have three brothers.”
Soon after earning her fine arts degree in painting, she came across a small gallery showing traditional Korean Bojagi, which is wrapping cloths. Bojagi are made out of pieces of natural fabrics, such as ramie, hemp, and silk, left over from making traditional Korean clothing called Hanbok. They were created for wrapping, storing, and moving objects.
Seo was deeply inspired. “I remember that day like it was yesterday,” she said. “I recognized them as geometric abstract textile art that no one can visualize with painting.”
She had no time to make art based on Bojagi because she worked full time as a package designer and silk painting artist. Her job brought her to the United States so she could stay up on textile trends. “Everything clicked for me, my fine arts knowledge, my design skills, and my craft work,” she said. “It all worked for me.”
She also met her husband while in this country. They live in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, with their dog.
Soon after her wedding, Seo began making her art full time. She creates contemporary installation pieces based on traditional Bojagi.
For the first five or so years, Seo made traditional Bojagi, piecing together scraps of material companies had left over when making hanbok for formal or semiformal events such as festivals, celebrations, and ceremonies. Then Seo began experimenting by adding silk painting, collage, embroidery, foam board, and found objects to her work.
Her pieces grew larger and became installations in such places as the Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University. This week, Seo installed a piece called Through My Window: Peace and Freedom in the Gordon Student Center at Onondaga Community College as part of Quilting by the Lake.
The large work measures 796 inches wide by 80 inches high and is made up of five segments of stitched-together pieces of Korean organza. The material hangs in front of a curved wall of windows and is translucent, letting in plenty of light.
Seo said the piece represents her wish that people can have peaceful lives without war, food shortages, and diseases. “When I saw all of the international flags from all the different countries in the Gordon Student Center, I knew that my artwork here would be about peace and freedom,” she said. “I think the title and setting is perfect for this work.”
Seo’s installation will remain on display at Onondaga Community College through the end of September. “We are grateful for our partnership with Onondaga Community College to host Quilting by the Lake here every summer,” Robedee said. “And I would especially like to thank Meredith Cantor for making it possible to install Wonju’s work here.”
If you go…
What: Installation of Through My Window: Peace and Freedom
Who: Fiber artist Wonju Seo
Where: Gordon Student Center on the Onondaga Community College campus, in Syracuse, NY
When: On display through the end of September