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Check out those hooters

Be mesmerized by thousands of gawking eyes at the Owl Art and Craft Museum

By Korea Herald

Published : Jan. 29, 2013 - 19:44

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The following is part of a series exploring unique museums, collections and the passionate collectors behind them. ― Ed.


Over the past 45 years, Bae Myung-hee has traveled all over the country to scour antiques stores, auctions and flea markets, hunting and searching for very particular and peculiar items.

The items are not necessarily fiscally valuable or worth their weight in gold, but are precious to her all the same.

Ever since she was a child, Bae has had a serious passion and obsession for all things owl.

“When I was in second grade and saw a wooden owl sculpture during a class field trip to Gyeongju,” she said. “I just fell in love with the owl’s big eyes.”

It never occurred to her to start a collection, but nevertheless, over the years Bae began to collect owl pieces one by one, amassing around 5,000 various owl collectibles and knick-knacks. 
The collection of various owl-related figures on display at the Owl Art and Craft Museum. ( Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald) The collection of various owl-related figures on display at the Owl Art and Craft Museum. ( Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)

After decades of collecting owl-related figurines, she decided to open up the Owl Art and Craft Museum ― the first of its kind ― in June 2003 near Samcheong Park in Seoul.

Bae truly knows how to take a theme and run with it, with owl eyes glaring every which way one turns, making the museum a one-stop destination to fulfill all one’s owl needs and curiosities.

Visiting this museum, one can begin to grasp the dedication and passion of this collector, who is putting her life’s work on display. From stamps to large wooden, ceramic and metal statues, to stuffed dolls, an owl-shaped phone and pencils with Hedwig from “Harry Potter” printed on them, all the way to a giant owl cookie that has been preserved with glue ― when it comes to what is considered an owl collectible, nothing is off-limits to Bae.

Hanging on the museum wall is a standard photo frame where she has placed bank notes from around the world with owl images, including a U.S. $1 bill where she points out the small owl icon that is printed on the top right corner of the note, barely visible to the naked eye.

“I’m just an ordinary person who opened up a museum,” said Bae, who has been often referred to as the “crazy owl lady.”

“This is my dream.”

And despite having never once been outside of Korea, Bae has managed to garner owl motifs from more than 80 different countries, including Russia, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, the United States, Germany and many more.

“Even my family and friends help out. Anytime they come across any figures with owls on them, they always bring them to me,” she said.

“Lately I haven’t been collecting as much as I wish I could,” said Bae. “It’s unfortunate because it takes a lot of time and money, so right now I’ve decided to just focus on my book that I hope to publish.”

Bae is currently studying and compiling information in hopes of one day publishing a book about the thousands of relics that she has collected throughout the years. Anytime she and her family moved, she always insured her owl collection as her most valuable family treasure.

“I have no idea how much money I’ve spent on these figurines over the years,” she said, laughing. “I don’t make that much money and I have never thought about how I could make a lot of money from this. This is just simply something that I do because I love doing it.”

Among the thousands of Bae’s novelty items located inside the museum is one that perhaps conveys the most telling story of the cunning creature of the night ― a framed, cross-stitched piece with the tale of a wise owl that reads:

“The wise old owl lived in an oak. The more he saw, the less he spoke. The less he spoke, the more he heard. Why can’t we all be like that wise old bird?”
The exterior of the Owl Art and Craft Museum in Samcheong-dong, Seoul. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald) The exterior of the Owl Art and Craft Museum in Samcheong-dong, Seoul. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)

■ Owl Art and Craft Museum 

(02) 3210-2902

● Location: 27-21 Samcheong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul

● Hours: Open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (April-Sept.) and until 7 p.m. (Oct.-March)

● Admission: 5,000 won for adults and 3,000 won for children

For more information, visit www.owlmuseum.co.kr.

By Julie Jackson (juliejackson@heraldcorp.com)