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  • Celebrating Youhen: Hundred and Fifty Feet of Calligraphy

    Myoung-won Kwon's scroll at Folklife Festival
    Myoung-won Kwon's scroll at Folklife Festival

    The Japanese have a concept known as youhen. It is a tough word to translate without understanding the context. When a piece of pottery is fired in a kiln, it will either turn out as expected, be destroyed by a trapped air bubble, or undergo unexpected changes in color or texture during the firing, sometimes becoming even more beautiful as a result. That third outcome describes a youhen.

    Planning the Festival involves learning about participants and gauging what they will deliver to Festival visitors on the National Mall. Once the invitation to participate is accepted, however, the curator's job ends and the magic of the participant's creativity takes over.

    Visitors to the Festival's APA program site saw a youhen today when calligrapher Myoung-won Kwon, assisted by his daughter Patricia, created a work of art that stretched for 150 feet. He first laid out old rugs on the earth that stretched from the Family Activities tent to the Guest Book sculpture, and then unrolled a long linen-like scroll from one end to the other. Bricks were placed strategically to keep it from being affected by the wind.

    Starting from nearby the Family Activities tent, he held a giant brush that was four feet tall in both hands. Dipping it in an industrial-sized vat of ink, he deftly moved the brush around,taking care not to step in the wet ink with his white socks. As he worked his way down the scroll,the audience fell into a reverent hush. Only at the Folklife Festival could we find calligraphy as a spectator sport!

    When he came to the end, Patricia announced that the message read: "O you beautiful people. Let us live today together." The smaller characters at the bottom of the scroll read: "Let us have world peace and pray to live together."

    A video of this event will be available online shortly, and a link to it will be added here.

    Phil Tajitsu Nash is the curator of the Asian Pacific Americans program at the 2010 Folklife Festival. 

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