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Chusa, So Human…

Posted November. 03, 2005 07:19,   


“A servant just came and handed me your letter. It is a great relief to hear the news in the new year. I miss you very much, but my heart is not at ease because, to see you, I must travel across the sea and the times are full of ill spirit. I have a fever in my mouth and nose which is painful. My eye illness is getting worse. Do take care. March 2, the Year of Byeong-oh (1846), Your Father.”

This is an excerpt from a letter (the original letter written in Chinese characters) that the 60-year-old Chusa Kim Jung-hee (1786~1856) sent his son while he was banished to Jeju Island. Chusa was one of the greatest scholars of the time and a famous calligrapher, but this letter shows Chusa’s ordinary and human side as a father who is worried about his son and a man who is worried about his health. From November 11 to 20, the Gwacheon Culture Hall in Gyeonggi will hold the “Small Collection of Chusa’s Calligraphy,” (toll-free contact number: 02-504-6513) which will display 81 works of Chusa that have never been shown to the public, including 39 letters (including the one above), 26 poems, eight essays, and eight paintings.

The city of Gwacheon and the Chusa Research Association have put together this exhibition, motivated by the fact that Chusa spent some of his last years in a straw hut in Gwacheon. The exhibition will display 124 works, including 66 letters, 34 poems, 13 essays, and 11 paintings, 81 of which are possessions of individual collectors and have never been disclosed to the public.

“We wanted to learn about the human side of Chusa so we personally met with over 20 individual collectors who possess Chusa’s letters and other works as family relics. That is how we gathered the works,” explained Kim Young-bok, a fellow at the Chusa Research Association. “Letters and other works are very helpful in identifying chronological stages of the making of the Chusa Typeface. These artifacts will be important data in studying Chusa’s human side such as frank dialogues that spring from pure life, small thoughts of his daily life, and his overall course of life.”

Throughout his life, the great calligrapher is said to have holed 10 ink slabs and wore out 1,000 writing brushes. In a letter Chusa sent to a friend during one of his last years, there is a part that shows how hard he worked to complete a typeface that is only his.

“I received your letter on a day of harsh winds and find an important study subject to appreciate and thought over as the sam-baek-gu-bi (Three hundred and nine epitaphs of the Han and Wei Dynasties of China written in the typeface of “ye.” They were the essence of calligraphy that Chusa pursued.) in my writing arm at last reach the daily letters [I write]. Now that I have reached this [level of writing], I find my self immersed in such joy that I briefly forget about the mountainous worries that shake my home.”

The works to be displayed have been inspected by Chusa typeface experts. However, the organizers said closer inspection is needed on three addresses to ancestors that will be displayed along with letters.

Mun-Myung Huh angelhuh@donga.com