Art on paper: Korean paper art master shares her craft in Shorewood

Art on paper: Korean paper art master shares her craft in Shorewood

SHOREWOOD, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Art can be a universal language for people to communicate ideas to other cultures, one woman here in the Milwaukee area who is a Korean immigrant, uses her art of Korean paper folding to share her culture, and the story of her life as an immigrant with people young and old.

She's been recognized by numerous organizations, and her art has appeared in exhibitions as well.

"I started paper folding arts in south Korean in 1996, at the time I wanted to teach my kids with fun, early childhood hands-activities," said SeonJoo So.

According to So, Korean paper folding art actually very different than the Japanese art of origami.

"[In most types of origami you] make the 1 item with 1 piece of paper, don't cut, don't use glue, just folding to make the one item," said So, "but the Korean way of paper folding, no restrictions."

Cutting, gluing, and using multiple pieces of paper are all on the table.

So said there are many different schools of Korean paper art.

Everything from complex swans with thousands of folded pieces, to intricate hand-woven baskets from twisted paper, to 'paintings' made with techniques that date back thousands of years using hand-made paper.

So said in post-war Korea, where art supplies were scarce, Korean paper folding arts flourished.

"So we usually use some recycled part, using the newspaper, some magazine, using these kinds of paper to make creative, useful works," said So.

So said it's hard to estimate how long intricate pieces like the ones she does take to make.

"Sometimes I cannot measure the time," said So, saying she often folds paper while doing other activities like watching TV, "I just fold the units one by one, put it together."

She said putting all those pieces together can take days.

So's Grandmother, who passed away at 105 years old, inspired her to start learning the craft.

"My grandma always said, 'don't stop learning, if you stop learning something new you cannot make [yourself happy when you are a] senior.'"

So said when she was a young woman in Korea she studied genetic engineering, but gave that career up when she became a mother.

"In Korean tradition, the mother, parenting law didn't want [mothers] to work outside of the house," said So, "many Korean women have no chance to work outside of the house."

Instead, she says she learned paperfolding with her grandmother to stay sharp.

"Hands on activity makes [the] brain [..] smart," said So.

Her grandmother also encouraged her to seek more in life.

"She pushed me to learn something more, to study abroad," said So.

That's when she moved here to the Milwaukee area in 2006 to peruse a masters degree in education.

"At the time my age was 44 years old," said So, "before that I never ever [spoke] in English."

Now, So says she teaches Korean paper folding arts to students at UWM and MPS, she even has apprentices.

So said moving to America was a culture shock-- beyond just having trouble with the imperial system--

"Now, still now, I cannot measure, one mile?," laughed So, "how long [is that]?"

So says she saw similarities as well, specifically to the roles women are expected to play, like she was in south Korea.

"[Women in the Western world,] also [...] struggle to [balance] work and house chores, or their manage their lives and their ambitions," said So, "that is very similar."

So said she hopes her story of being inspired by her grandmother to have a life beyond the home and pursue her passion for paper folding arts, can inspire people to find their happiness, regardless of race, gender identity, ability, or social status.

"I can help some parts of this kind of meaning, to share my arts and to share my life," said So.

She has a studio where she does much of her work in Shorewood, you can find out more about the studio by visiting it's Facebook page.

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