Child's Pose.
<br>Photo by Terry Brown

Graduating arts student wins prestigious Windgate Fellowship

Esther Jihye Cho is one of 10 students nationally to receive the $15,000 award, which she will use to continue her research on the preservation of traditional Korean papermaking and hanji.

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As a Korean-American artist, Esther Jihye Cho has always held a deep interest in her identity.

“Since childhood, I’ve questioned whether to retain my cultural roots or immerse myself completely in my American environment,” said Cho, who graduates from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts this month. “Assimilation into Western culture seems to demand all or nothing. However, through crafts, specifically furniture making, I’ve found a way to express both my Eastern and Western cultural identities.” 

As a recipient this year of the Center for Craft, Creativity & Design's prestigious Windgate Fellowship, a $15,000 award given to 10 graduating art students each year, Cho has been given the opportunity to achieve this balance.

Scavenger's Shelf.
<br>Photo by Heather McCalla
Scavenger's Shelf.
Photo by Heather McCalla

The fellowship will support three months of travel to South Korea where she will continue her research and exploration in the preservation of traditional Korean papermaking, hanji, and its related arts. She plans to visit hanji paper mills, further her technical skills through hands-on study, establish a network of like-minded individuals who care about its preservation and integrate the craft and tradition into her practice.

“With the purpose of shedding light on a craft and a tradition that has existed for hundreds of years, I plan to create a series of work with hanji that communicates the ideas of self-identification, cultural disconnect and loss of lineage,” Cho said. “As a furniture maker and budding artist, I will orchestrate my newly gained techniques into my furniture objects with the purpose of finding new ways to attract new audiences for hanji. I will integrate my newly gained skills and knowledge into my practice to help provide a glimpse of the life of immigrant families in the United States today. I want my work to be viewed as the ‘second generation lens’ that brings into focus the many aspects of American life.”

For the fellowship, Cho submitted works mostly consisting of furniture — cabinets, a shelf and conceptual wall-hung pieces. She employs a discipline in woodworking to seek a place where Korean and Western craft traditions merge to communicate the concepts of self-identification, cultural disconnect and the loss of lineage. Her paradoxical identity as a Korean-American gives her a unique perspective, she said.

“It is the driving conceptual and emotional force behind my artistic ambitions,” Cho said. “Making three-dimensional objects, primarily out of wood, has become a tool for me to express and communicate my identity, my experiences and my way of thinking. This is how I create my language.”

<br>Photo by Terry Brown
Photo by Terry Brown

Before embarking for South Korea, Cho will pursue an apprenticeship with Aimee Lee, a distinguished Korean-American artist, papermaker and the leading hanji researcher and practitioner in the United States.

After her travels, Cho plans to use the remaining funds to build the types of equipment necessary to make hanji and other forms of paper.

Each year, the Windgate Fellowship identifies 10 graduating college seniors with exemplary skill in craft. Awardees receive $15,000, one of the largest awards offered nationally to art students.

Established in 1996, The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design is a national nonprofit organization that advances the understanding of craft by encouraging and supporting research, critical dialogue, and professional development in the United States. CCCD raises funds for programs and outreach to international, national and regional artists, craft organizations, universities and colleges, and the community. Each year, CCCD administers more than a quarter-million dollars in grants to those working in the craft field. For more information, visit


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