Instructor’s sculpture exhibit will celebrate women’s work

When Hesston College and Tabor College art instructor Shin-Hee Chin’s sculpture exhibit opens Monday in the Hesston College Library, it should be obvious to all who visit that she is anything but new to the world of art exhibition.

In fact, Chin, who lives in McPherson, has participated in more than 40 solo, duo and group exhibitions over the past 20 years, both in the United States and in her hometown of Seoul, South Korea.

This latest exhibit, “A Rich Emptiness,” will be an installation of 10 to 15 human forms sculpted with fiber, on display from March 21 through April 17.

Most of the forms will be women in various standing and sitting positions, some life-sized and others more abstract, she said.

Chin uses her art, particularly sculptures like these, to show the beauty of women and the work that they do, she said.

Her work, she said, speaks for the women of her culture and of others whose voices have been silenced and whose work has been demeaned as trivial.

“I attempt to carve out what I proudly call feminine territory, in which the voices of effaced and silenced women reverberate,” she said.

Chin’s fiber art is itself a transformation of traditional “women’s work” like sewing, knitting and mending. She uses “domestic” media like clothes, threads and paper and employs craftwork techniques like stitching, random wrapping and binding to create nontraditional art.

In this way her work becomes the “celebration of a woman’s chore,” she said.

Much of the fabric and thread she uses is from old clothing of her two children, Grace, 15, and Caleb, 13. Chin takes the old clothing and wraps it in yarn to create her sculptures.

Chin studied and exhibited fiber art on both sides of the Pacific Ocean before coming recently to the Midwest. In 1988, she moved from Korea to California with her husband, Kusup Chin, bringing with her a master’s in fiber arts from Hang-Ik University in Seoul.

After taking a break from studying art for about seven years to stay home with her children, Chin returned to graduate school and in 1998 obtained a master’s in fiber arts from California State University at Long Beach.

It was there Chin began using fiber to create three-dimensional forms, working previously with paint and fiber on flat surfaces only.

Chin left several of her works on public display in both South Korea and California, including a stained-glass work at the Bong-Chun First Church in Seoul, a piece called “Sea Creatures” at the Todai Japanese Restaurant in Orange, Calif., and a mural at the Children’s Center at the University of California.

After three years in Maryland and another one in Michigan, Chin’s family moved to McPherson in 2003 so Kusup could take a position teaching sociology at McPherson College.

Not new to teaching art, Chin has taken this opportunity to teach a couple of college classes as well. This is her second semester teaching oil painting on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Tabor College in Hillsboro, and she just started teaching watercolor painting this spring on Mondays and Wednesdays at Hesston College.

Although she does not enjoy the almost daily drives to and from Hillsboro and Hesston for class, Chin said she loves to teach, especially this subject matter.

“Painting is what I really dreamed of before I could paint,” she said. “I feel like it’s a blessing now for me to paint and for me to teach paint(ing).”

Chin also spends the occasional Friday at The Gallery in McPherson, at which about 19 gallery members take turns exhibiting their artwork and supporting one another’s efforts, she said.

Last March and April at The Gallery, Chin displayed an installation of fiber art called “Common Threads.”

The featured piece in the exhibit was a large, four-panel wall hanging of a woman in the four seasonal stages of life – spring, summer, fall and winter.

“I used my daughter as a model for spring,” she said.

She said the piece of fiber art-a kind of crazy “entanglement of thread” all stitched together-was based on Ecclesiastes 3:11, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.”

Much of her artwork gets its theme from the book of Ecclesiastes, she said.

Chin decided to display this hanging in the window so that even those too intimidated to come into the gallery could enjoy her work from the street.

With this work, Chin said she wanted to “play with the idea of the woman’s work and the man’s work” by making a piece of stitchery, usually done by women on smaller scales, into a larger piece of artwork than what is usually done even by male artists.

“From far away it looks like a painting,” she said. “But when you’re close, (you see) it’s all threads stitched together.”

Her work is not meant to express resentment or sorrow over the oppression of women, she said, but rather the healing that is possible through the creativity of a woman’s “dynamic inner resources.”

“My work represents the openness, responsiveness and generosity with which a female artist can approach reality.”

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