Art that's a cut above

Exhibit: An Annapolis coffeehouse gives a local businesswoman the chance to display her creative -- and painstaking -- side.

September 12, 2001|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Many people know Yooni Kim Yoon as the friendly seamstress at West Cleaners and Alterations in downtown Annapolis. What they might not know about Yoon is on display a few doors down at 49 West Coffee House.

There, the monthly art exhibit features Yoon's work in paper cutting, an art form with origins in China. With a trim knife and tiny scissors, Yoon cuts a spider spinning a web, thread by thread, and cuts tangled tree branches and ballet dancers performing Swan Lake.

Yoon's paper cuttings have been part of group shows before, but the 49 West exhibit is the first time her work has been shown in Annapolis, her home since she emigrated from South Korea with her family in 1988. Yoon is reveling in her new public identity as an artist.

DelRene Smart, who owns the Pony Espresso coffee shop next to the Yoons' dry cleaning business, wasn't aware of her friend's alter ego as a skilled paper cutter.

"You think of someone as the alterations lady, and she has another talented life," said Smart, who had seen several pieces of Yoon's work at the dry cleaning shop. "I always thought of her as a wonderful person, but she's on a pedestal now."

Since the exhibit opened Sept. 1, at least half of the 55 pieces have been sold at prices ranging from $100 to $850.

"I've had some people tell me it's the best show I've ever hung," said Brian Cahalan, who owns 49 West with his wife, Sarah. "You don't get to see paper cutting hanging in galleries very often."

It has been more than two years since Yoon approached the Cahalans about showing her artwork at the coffeehouse. They've displayed the work of regional artists since 49 West opened in 1995, and their wall space is booked for the next four years.

As soon as he saw some of Yoon's pieces, Cahalan signed her up for a show. Her work in the little-known medium of paper cutting fit perfectly with the artistic sensibility at 49 West.

"My main goal is to try to be different than most of the galleries in town that show stuff mostly for tourists, like paintings of sailboats and beaches," Cahalan said.

Yoon, 59, is a self-taught paper cutter. She and her sister, Hae Young Kwan, took up the art five years ago. To learn the basics, they took out library books on the subject.

Kwan concentrated on designs with a Korean theme. Yoon started with profiles in silhouette and has moved on to other subjects, including landscapes and animals. She used to do her cutting with nail scissors. Now she uses a smaller pair made by a Swiss paper cutter.

"I can only do three hours' work a day because it's too hard for the eyes," said Yoon.

Sukey Harris, a founding member of the Guild of American Papercutters, said paper-cutting styles vary widely and are limited only by the paper used.

"A lot of people don't know about it, and when they see it can't believe it's cut paper," she said.

Paper cutters use all types of paper, Harris said. They're always on the lookout for new materials, even in public restrooms.

"I came across a paper towel the other day and took extra because it looked like dotted Swiss," Harris said.

Yoon works mainly with black and white paper. In the past few years, she has focused on developing her cutting skills. She traveled with the guild to Switzerland to observe master paper cutters, and some of her pieces are in a guild traveling exhibition.

Yoon received a fine arts degree in 1964 from Ewha Woman's University in Seoul, South Korea. In 1988, she and her husband, Hogil Yoon, sold the family printing company and settled in Annapolis with their two children. Since then, the Yoons have run their dry cleaning business on West Street.

In the store window, a paper cutting of a woman at a sewing machine hints at the owner's artistic side.

The Yoons' longtime presence on West Street helped to draw a crowd of about 250 people to her opening reception at 49 West, including a college friend and Yoon's 34-year-old daughter, who lives in Japan.

Also at the exhibit was Jin Yoo, who met Yoon in 1960, when they were college students in Seoul. Yoo traveled from her home in San Diego to the exhibit and bought one of the spider web pieces for her son.

"When I saw the spider, I couldn't believe it," she said.

Yoon's three series of a spider creating a web have been the talk of the exhibit. In one piece, Yoon uses 10 separate cuttings to depict the progression from thread to web, as the spider zigzags from one corner to another until the web is woven.

Yoon titled the pieces "Living." She says the spider's work represents the "glory of life."

She got the idea from her garden and from the classic children's book Charlotte's Web.

"At my house, I enjoy looking at spider, never touch it," said Yoon.

Other pieces on display include "Solitude in City," a crowd of men in hats and trench coats; "Tea Time," two women in ornately cut Victorian dresses taking tea; and a piece that depicts a Korean roof with 36 decorative tiles.

"It's just amazing to think of the patience it must take to cut paper in such intricate and delicate ways," Cahalan said.

Asked about the appeal of paper cutting, Yoon pulled a piece of paper out of her pocket and read it:

"All of human have to enjoy and appreciate beauty," she said. "That is my motive."

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