Students make immense daily contributions to the work we do and the services we provide in Library Special Collections (LSC). Employment in LSC provides students an opportunity to work directly with a globally-recognized collection of cultural heritage resources, including rare books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, and artworks, to name but a few. Working in LSC is not merely a job for students, but an opportunity to learn on a continual basis—and to have fun and work in a supportive team atmosphere.
LSC staff thought it would be nice to share these unique student experiences periodically, in the hopes of illustrating how “special” Library Special Collections is to them, and to celebrate the contributions that each and every one of them makes to our Department, the Library, and the larger UCLA academic community.
I wrote this entry a couple quarters back and thus it is way overdue (a scary word in the library context!). Now I am no longer a student assistant at the library, or even a student for that matter. However, currently being jobless, school-less, car-less, restless, and jobless (did I say that already?), I have jumped at the opportunity to make this entry blog-ready and in turn, to close up my time at Special Collections. Here goes.
Grace Song staffs the Reading Room at UCLA Library Special Collections
In search of the topic for my next blog, I was overtaken with way too many ideas that spanned from cook books to textiles to documents about Korean art and culture. Although I did have a ball in the stacks perusing cook books, I decided to hone in on the topic of Korean heritage, which to me seemed more of a challenge… and I love a good challenge (once in a while). Though I was but a lowly student worker in Public Services, I had to switch gears for this project to think and do as a researcher would. “Where do I even start?” I thought, as I fumbled around on the library catalog. People at LSC spent their precious time helping me to find relevant materials and I was taught how to use the Online Archive of California to find manuscript collections within the library. I must add that I have a newfound appreciation for the finding aid – as an undergraduate student, I had never before had an opportunity to use such a tool. After browsing, I discovered that there are more resources that have to do with the art and culture of Korea than I thought there would be. So, I rubbed my hands together and requested those boxes and paged those books like a hungry little scholar, waiting to devour a feast of resources and materials on the Reading Room banquet table… but only one box and one folder at a time, of course.
I decided to look into the Craft and Folk Art Museum Records (Collection 1835), in which there were, among many others, records of a 1982 exhibition called “Guardians of Happiness: A Shamanistic Approach to Korean Folk Art,” curated by Horay Zo Za-Yong of the Emillle Museum in Seoul, Korea. I had never before studied the traditions of folk art in my art history classes, so it was exciting to see pictures of and read about the pieces that were included in the exhibition as well as to take note of all the work and thought that went into the show. The exhibition included a variety of mediums that spanned from the 16th to 19th centuries: screens with colorfully painted animals, ink drawings of the “guardians” that were said to have protected families from evil spirits, woodblock prints, fabric designs, maps, intricately crafted roof tiles, objects such as bells, swords, drums, fans, stamps, and beautifully crafted ceramic pieces.
Horay Zozayong, “Guardians of Happiness” exhibition catalog, Emileh Museum, Seoul, Korea 1982. From the Craft and Folk Art Museum Records (Collection 1835), UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library
Most of the art was made by anonymous craftsmen and many of the objects were family treasures rather than objects to be displayed publicly. An interesting aspect about folk art is that it embodies “an art of an entire nation, of all classes” (Zo Za-Yong, “Paintings magic and mundane: Folk art with a wealth of significance for everyday life”). In the words of the curator, the craftsmen came from a variety of backgrounds, as some were nomads, others monks, and some even court painters. The imagery was to have been seen everywhere, in “the royal court, Buddhist temples, Shaman shrines, Kisaeng drinking houses, altars and private houses” (Zo Za-Yong). There I was, in the reading room, trying to imagine what daily life in Korea would have been like in times before the 1910 annexation, before the devastating war in the 1950s, and before any major industrialization. Looking at the documents gave me an insight into what my own ancestors in Korea would have been surrounded by on a daily basis.
To further supplement my exploration, I looked through a book called Korean Traditions: As Seen Through Paper Windows which features photographs taken by Joo Myung-dok (born 1940), who documented ways of life in the countryside as a way to preserve Korea’s heritage. His black and white photographs from the 1960s to the 1980s feature dancers wearing traditional dress, ritual ceremonies and monks, as well as children and families in familiar villages of his past. I was especially taken with the photographs showing a quiet kind of beauty within the architectural details of windows and walls. They show a side of Korea that I have never had the privilege to witness myself. Of course I can always Google images of the Korean countryside, but it is always a greater experience to see photos within a cohesive collection through the eyes of another individual who has a meaningful and intimate connection with the subjects.
Lastly, I happened to get a sneak-peek of another collection, the Ho Young Ham Papers (Collection 697). Ho Young Ham was a Korean-born man who immigrated to Hawaii in the early 1900s, and his collection includes books, photographs, correspondence, and clothing that belonged to his family. Two of my co-workers were admiring some of the hanbok (Korean traditional dress) and I obviously had to check it out too, not because I am nosy but because it is a rare occurrence to see clothing items in the library (okay, maybe I am a bit nosy).
Assorted Clothing, Ho Young Ham Papers Box 42 (Collection 697). UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library.
Anyway, these articles of clothing were not like the hanbok dresses I wore when I was a little girl and not even like the one that my mom wore for my brother’s wedding, which was a more fancy type fit for the special occasion. I recently went to a hanbok shop in Korea Town, where I basically had a heart attack from looking at all the beautiful colors of silk. It is not that the clothing from the collection is not as pretty or not worth looking at – that is not the case at all. They were so very worth poring over because I had not seen traditional Korean clothing that was used for everyday wear. Granted, there were some fancier ones included in the mix, but what caught my eye were the garments that had the wear and tear of everyday life on them. The colors were just as beautiful and I had just as much of a heart attack as when I went to the fancy hanbok shop. I realized that I grew up looking at these types of colors – the soft but vibrant pinks, yellows and greens. I see them in the Korean dishes I eat, I see them in my mom’s art pieces that don our walls, I see them in my own art, and I see them as my favorite colors that spark memories within my mind. Even though Joo Myung-dok’s photographs were black and white, I see these colors in his pictures, and I also envision them in the artifacts included in the CAFAM show in 1982.
It was definitely very gratifying to “visit” an exhibition from the past, observe Korea’s countryside through another’s artistic eye, and see and feel the traditional clothing that was worn in everyday situations. Seeing these materials in the reading room helped me to better visualized and piece together certain aspects of my own heritage, which is something that I continue to think more seriously about in regard to my own life and identity. The experience also behooved me to appreciate not only the valuable materials available in the collections, but the readers who come in day in and day out to work on their various projects. It is challenging work and often goes unnoticed by many undergrads like me, who take much for granted. The best discoveries are always founded upon much toil and sweat, but also a whole lot of fun. And sometimes, one can see how one’s own life fits in with the little details along the way. I would very much encourage other undergrads to make these little projects for themselves, even if there is no grade or academic credit for it in the end. Since I am so wise now that I have graduated (cue the hair flip and eye rolls), I can say for sure that my college education has not amounted to a number, whether it is my GPA or the number of units I have taken. It has all to do with these types of discoveries and the lessons I have learned, whether they were in the academic context or in everyday living situations such as having a part-time job (the best one being at LSC). I will very much miss it and I hope current and future students will recognize and appreciate the wealth that surrounds them at the library.
By Grace Song, former Public Services Student Assistant