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Collector Sohn Chang-kun awarded highest order of cultural merit

Sohn Chang-kun (Cultural Heritage Administration)
Sohn Chang-kun (Cultural Heritage Administration)

Sohn Chang-kun, who has donated more than 300 important cultural heritage items that he collected throughout his life, was awarded the Order of Cultural Merit Geumgwan on Tuesday, becoming the first recipient of the country’s highest honor for cultural heritage preservation.

“The honor is given to a contributor who has devoted at least 15 years to preserving Korea’s cultural heritage,” an official from the Cultural Heritage Administration told The Korea Herald. “Sohn’s recent donation of the National Treasure ‘Sehando’ was especially highly recognized.”

The award ceremony was held Tuesday at the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation in Gangnam, southern Seoul, with Sohn’s son and daughter receiving the order on his behalf. Sohn, 91, was unable to attend due to frail health, according to the Cultural Heritage Administration. 

“Sehando” by Chusa Kim Jeong-hui (National Museum of Korea)
“Sehando” by Chusa Kim Jeong-hui (National Museum of Korea)


Earlier this year, Sohn donated “Sehando,” a representative painting by scholar and calligrapher Chusa Kim Jeong-hui (1786-1856), to the National Museum of Korea. “Sehando,” which means “painting of winter days,” was designated National Treasure No. 180 in 1974 and is now on display at the special exhibition “After Every Winter Comes Spring” at the museum in commemoration of the donation from the Sohn family.

The museum, however, was closed Tuesday to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. It will remain temporarily closed until Dec. 18.

“Sehando” was painted in 1840 while Kim was in exile on Jeju Island at the age of 55. Kim painted the work for his loyal student Yim Sang-jeok, who sent him books and letters, to express gratitude for his disciple’s eternal devotion. The painting, which comes with a letter to his student, portrays Kim’s loneliness and despair, but at the same time shows the “evergreen” spirit symbolized by the pine trees.

In 2018 Sohn, who is a businessman, unconditionally donated to the National Museum 304 cultural assets he and his father, Sohn Se-ki, had collected, having entrusted them to the institution in 2005 and 2010. While entrusted cultural assets are managed by the museum and belong to the owners, donated cultural assets are owned by the museum.

Four other cultural figures were also awarded the Order of Cultural Merit on Tuesday. The late Shin Young-hoon, an expert in traditional Korean architecture who died in May, was posthumously awarded the Order of Cultural Merit Eungwan, while Yoo Young-ki, an artisan specializing in “gungsijang,” received the same award for his expertise in bow and arrow making. The Order of Cultural Merit Bogwan was awarded to Kim Jong-dae, an artisan specializing in “yundojang,” or geomantic compass making, and to Hwang Jae-ha in recognition of his contributions to research on Korea’s natural monuments.

By Park Yuna (yunapark@heraldcorp.com)
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