|Park’s talent caught the attention of Kim who, before long, began to teach him not only practical carving skills but
also an important philosophical lesson about the vocation: “The life of a woodcarver would never be easy, but you
should consider woodcarving as your mission and use all your resources to contribute to the preservation and
development of this endangered traditional Buddha art.” Park was just a 14-year-old boy at the time, but the lecture,
still vivid in his ears today, was powerful enough to make him realize his lifelong mission as a woodcarver.
After he spent a year at the woodcarving workshop, Kim arranged for him to enter middle school and said
that to be a great sculptor one needed to get a scholastic education. This gave Park the opportunity to meet
another mentor who would profoundly influence his life and work.
This man was Yi Un-sik, the current dean of the Art College at Kangwon National University. As an art teacher
in the middle school where Park attended, Yi was greatly impressed by a wooden boat Park carved, and,
acknowledging his artistic potential, took him under his wing. Yi brought this young pupil to the schools
he moved to, introducing him to various modes of sculpture, including clay and plaster modeling, bronze
and iron, as well as woodwork.
Kim Seong-su and Yi Un-sik were two great tutors who guided this unfortunate country boy to the wonderful
artistic world of woodcarving, and thus introduced him to a new life. Park learned from Kim the professional
mission of woodcarving and basic woodcarving skills, while from Yi he gained knowledge of the theory and practice of
plastic arts in general, which would become a firm foundation for his life as a creative artist in the future.
In 1967, Park Chan-soo held his first exhibition to acquire both the general public and critics’ opinion of his sculptures,
and as a result received wide acclamations from the media. After that, he began his life as a professional sculptor and
held annual solo exhibitions. Then he met Shin Sang-gyun, a sculptor who specialized in Buddha carving, and, through
Shin, became attracted to the profound world of Buddha art, and woodcarving in particular. This influence led him to commit
himself solely to the art of Buddha sculpture, and in 1972, Park opened his workshop close by Shin’s studio in order
to learn more from his mentor. Shin’s art, which involved various materials including clay, plaster, and even cement, began
to exert a significant influence upon Park for whom wood was a single dominant medium. The experience with Shin also
inspired Park to introduce new ideas to his wood sculpture.
Once attracted to the mysterious beauty of Buddha figurines and sculpture, he decided to revive the
traditional Buddha art and began nationwide research tours to ancient Buddhist temples to collect materials
and survey relics. In 1985, he obtained a government-authorized certificate for national property repair, which
gave him the ability to independently deal with Buddhist cultural assets. It also gave him the opportunity to
participate in projects to restore important cultural properties, such as the Vairocana Buddha of Eunjeoksa
Temple, the Buddha Triad at Daeheungsa Temple, and the Image of Arhat at Baengnyeonsa Temple. More
important achievements came in 1987, when he made a reproduction of the Wooden Rotunda Scriptorium
of Yongmunsa Temple (Treasure No. 684), and in 1988, when he made a replica of the Openwork Holder
with Floral Motif at Tongdosa Temple. These reproductions are widely regarded as a leap forward in the
preservation of important Buddha fine arts, particularly since the Wooden Rotunda Scriptorium is the only
artwork of its kind remaining today, while the Openwork Holder is regarded as the zenith of wooden Buddha
art in Korea. Repairing and reproducing precious Buddha figurines, sculptures and gaining knowledge of the
history of Korean Buddhism as well as the stories behind each piece gave Park incredible joy. Gradually he began to
immerse himself deeper and deeper into the Buddhist cultural heritage and create his own works of Buddha art within
it. His remarkable achievements and sincere devotion as a Buddhist artist began to be well known through the many
important awards and prizes he won from various art festivals and competitions, including the prestigious President’s
Prize he received for his carving of a Dharma seat in the 1989 National Crafts Contest. In 1996, Park became a ‘Human
Cultural Property’when the Korean government designated him as Master Wood Sculptor (Important IntangibleCultural
Property No. 108), making him the first person to have such title in the art of woodcarving.
This Dharma seat is a masterpiece for which
Park Chan-soo utilized his entire capacity as a
devoted artist and even held a 100-day prayer session
before its design. The wood came from a Zelkova tree
on Ido Island that had died after living for approximately
1000 years. Carrying a tree of such an enormous size
to the mainland was a huge task in itself, and three
boats were mobilized for the dangerous mission,
during which they met strong winds and high waves.
When the tree was cut into blocks, it spit out bullets
and old coins from the depths of its core, breaking
more than 30 saw blades and threatening the lives
of the saw workers. In addition to the laborious
preparation process, the wood demanded Herculean
efforts from Park who spent three whole years
transforming it into a magnificent work of Buddha art.
View the master's works