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Sammy Lee photo courtesy Children's Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus

Artist-in-Residence: Sammy Lee Brings Her Heritage to Collage

As the artist-in-residence at Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus, Korean-born artist and mom of two Sammy Lee uses Korean paper to create art with kids.

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As we’re waiting for little ones to trickle into the museum’s art studio, artist Sammy Lee tells me about a student she had the week before. The young boy worked hard on his collage masterpiece using Hanji, a traditional Korean paper, and presented it to her. His eyes sparked with surprise as Lee crumpled the collage, showing him how create an aged look. The little boy smiled and exclaimed, “I liked it before, but now I like it even more!”

Lee is merging her heritage and lifelong love of art as the current artist-in-resident at Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus. We sat down with Lee to talk about her start in art, and how being a mom affects her art.

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Colorado Parent: How did you get your start as an artist?

Sammy Lee: I was an artist very early on. I grew up in Korea and came to Los Angeles at 16. As a fifth grader in Korea, I started this competitive fine arts training to get into a magnet junior high school. That’s when I started taking art more seriously, thinking, “I think I’m going to be an artist!”

CP: What will kids learn about in your open studio hours?

SL: I brought a suitcase full of fibrous paper, Hanji, from Korea, that is made from the inner bark of Mulberry trees. The way they make paper in Korea is not to cut it, like in western countries, instead it’s beaten to make the fibers very thin and resilient. Kids [at the museum] are collaging these papers into layers and using felting techniques, so their collages actually become permanent. I’ll use their art to make my permanent piece for the museum.

Collages made by kids during Sammy Lee’s open studio hours. Photo by Megan Forgey

CP: What have you learned during your residency?

SL: A teacher is just someone that makes things more accessible. I feel grateful that this material and method that I’m bringing is very new to the kids. I love that they come in and make art in a new, nontraditional way, with no right or wrong.

CP: How did you get into using Hanji as a medium?

SL: Hanji literally means Korean paper. All Korean paper traditionally is made out of the inner bark of Mulberry trees. While Mulberry trees are plentiful, the process is very laborious; about 100 steps to make a sheet of paper. Traditionally, it was used for lining furniture and walls, and since the process is so laborious, they would recycle it and reuse it. This is a borrowed craft from my heritage that I learned how to adapt to cast objects and make sculptural installations.

CP: How does being a mom influence your art?

SL: It’s a really big part. Once you become a mom, you become more future-oriented because you have to think about the world that they are going to live in. I want art to be more culturally diverse with more stories represented when my kids are grown up. Before having kids, using Hanji in my practice was more about the mere material, but because of my kids, I want them to learn about the tradition of making paper, and how the art form came over here. My use of Hanji became more multi-leveled; it’s not just a material, it’s about the story behind it.

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Need to Know: Sammy Lee’s open studio hours take place in the art studio at Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus most Fridays and Saturdays through December 27, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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