Aimee Lee


Aimee Lee




Itinerant; current temporary residence in Fort Drum, NY



Own Words

When I tell people that I'm an artist, they ask, "what kind of art do you do?" Then it gets all sorts of hairy. Just today, I picked up my violin for the first time in almost three years. I used to play every day. Even though I am an interdisciplinary artist, my main gig lately is as a papermaker. Specifically, Korean papermaking. Korean handmade paper is called hanji, and I'm a self-appointed hanji ambassador to the English- and Korean-speaking worlds.

I was born in Flushing, NY and raised north of the city on the Hudson River, and rejected my parents' culture for a while. Luckily, we didn't fight too much and there was no forced Korean school or church. Just dreadful histories with Korean dentists who were 40 minutes away when the closest dentist in town was down the street, but we couldn't go there since he wasn't Korean. I was lucky that my parents sent my little sister and me to Korea every once in a while to see family, so that it wasn't totally foreign, and that they spoke Korean at home, even if we didn't.

I was obsessed with becoming a concert violinist throughout high school, but when I landed at Oberlin College and realized that there was no way I could compete without practicing like a maniac, I chose the art track. When I was 20, I took a class in Chinese landscape painting history, and we saw actual scrolls at the college museum. The curator noted that the paper used was from Korea, and that Chinese painters imported hanji because it was the best paper around. I had a lightbulb moment and headed back to Korea that summer to re-learn the language, live with family, and switch to Korean in my conversations with my parents.

Fast forward ten years and I'm a couple years out of grad school, where I got an MFA in interdisciplinary book and paper arts. I was crazy about papermaking. But there was no serious mention in history books or by scholars about Korean papermaking. Upon searching, I found there wasn't much at all in English or in the US, so I got a Fulbright grant to tap the source. I traveled all over the Korean countryside, visiting paper mills, meeting papermakers and hearing their stories, and apprenticing at a traditional, family-operated mill northeast of Seoul. In Seoul, I learned paper weaving, paper felting, calligraphy, and natural dyeing. I met everyone I could find who knew about hanji and its history, its current state, and how it might fare in the future. It's not looking great, but there are a handful of people who really care, and I'm proud to be working with them to keep hanji from slipping away.

I promise that I will write a book on the whole thing. And that I will build a website so that people don't have to do the wild goose chase that I did to find more info on hanji. And maybe even shoot a documentary. But in the meantime, I blog ( - look at January 2009 archives for the nitty gritty on working at the paper mill), document feverishly (, make videos of my research and art (, and keep my website current (

And I travel constantly. I just visited Miami, where Diaspora Vibe Gallery hosted a solo show of my hanji artwork. They showcase artists of the Caribbean diaspora, but the curator included me, partly because I am part of the diaspora. The Korean one.

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