Soon after Wonju Seo graduated from Hong-Ik University in Seoul, South Korea, in 1988 with a bachelor’s degree in painting, she found her calling in a Seoul art gallery that featured antique bojagi.
Bojagi is a general term for all wrapping cloths in Korea. Traditional folk religions believed that keeping something wrapped protected it and bestowed good luck. Bojagi is used in everyday life from household items to gift wrapping, food covers, and also featured in weddings and Buddhist rites. More recently, they have been recognized as a traditional art form, often featured in museums and inspiring modern reinterpretations by artists like Seo.
“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. Korean women, who lived and made bojagi in ancient Korea back in the 14th to 19th centuries, gave me great deal of inspiration to create my geometric abstract textile art, which is contemporary bojagi.”
Participants at Quilting by the Lake 2020 have the opportunity to learn the ancient Korean art from Seo during her two workshops, “Wrapping with Blessings I” and Wrapping with Blessings II.” Students will use different Korean natural fabrics such as silk, ramie, and hemp in traditional Korean colors depending on classes. Students can use the pieces they make in class to later turn into window screens, table runners, shawls, scarves, bags, and more, using their own patterns.
This is the first time that Seo, who won QBL’s Fiber Arts Fellowship in 2018, will teach at the conference. “I am looking forward to teaching the participants Korean culture and the art of bojagi in my class, as well as hand-sewing techniques to create their own bojagi pieces,” she said.
Traditional bojagi is sewn by hand, and that is what Seo will be teaching in her classes. However, Seo will bring additional material that students can purchase if they want to sew their pieces with a machine so they can create decorative items or wearable art.
Seo was born and raised in South Korea. After graduating college, 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.”
In 1998, she moved to the United State to continue her career as an artist.
“Traditional bojagi used to be created out of leftover fabric in various colors after making traditional Korean clothing called Han-bok,” Seo said. “I have been using natural fabrics that I import from a fabric market in Seoul to create my contemporary bojagi.”
She enjoys creating with textiles because they are lightweight, flexible, and functional. “I have lots of fun with many different types of techniques with textiles, including hand sewing, embroidery, silk painting, natural dyes as well as printing,” she said. “I can dye fabric with pigment and make wearable art. I can stretch the fabric and wrap any kind of objects to make 3D art. I can make a single layer bojagi, which shows multi-colored patterns and geometric lines, and use it as a decorative window shade.”
Since Seo’s art stems from her Korean heritage, she enjoys sharing her culture with others. “I am interested in how the bojagi art from the traditional Korean culture unites and develops in modern Western culture,” she continued. “Especially, I am interested in how Westerners feel about Korean bojagi art and embrace it in their daily lives.”
Her favorite part of teaching her workshop happens at the end, when she takes a group shot of her students holding their finished pieces. “I know how much time, effort, and patience participants need to complete their work, especially with such small stitches,” she said. “For the participants, the finished works are the reward for their long, hard work. Also, it is always fun to see various designs of bojagi art in one place.”
WHAT: Wrapping with Blessings I and II workshops at Quilting by the Lake art quilt conference
WHEN: July 27 & 28 for workshop one, July 29-31 for workshop two
WHO: Workshops taught by Wonju Seo; conference run by Schweinfurth Art Center
WHERE: Onondaga Community College campus in Syracuse, NY
COST: Tuition for two-day workshop is $290 and three-day workshop is $410; housing and meals are extra
MORE INFORMATION: www.quiltingbythelake.com or 315.255.1553