Cotton and Mountain Chrysanthemums
Lee Ho-sin | Artist of Korean Painting
Mountain Chrysanthemum & Moon(60 x 93 cm, light coloring with ink on hanji)
Cotton (92 x 59 cm, light coloring with ink on hanji)
“King Yeongjo of the Joseon Dynasty once asked a 15-year-old girl what the most beautiful flower in the world is. She answered, ‘It is the cotton flower, Your Majesty. Although it has neither great charm nor fragrance, it provides cloth that keeps your subjects warm. Thus, in my humble opinion, the cotton flower is the most beautiful.’ Among all the eligible girls, she was chosen to be his queen. This incident happened in 1759.”
– “The Most Beautiful Flower in the World,” an essay by poet Lee San cited from Sancheong Literature Vol. 11
The cotton flower is the official flower of Sancheong County, and Korea’s first cotton field is located near Geoboesa Temple in Danseong-myeon, which is also where Master Seongcheol was born. Whenever I come here, my eyes are naturally drawn to this ancient cotton field, which is also near the birthplace of Mun Ik-jeom, who first brought cotton seeds to Korea.
Cotton is an annual plant of the mallow family. It has both a creamy yellow flower and a wine-colored pod called a “boll” which appear at the same time. When the boll splits open, the fluffy cotton bursts forth like a white cloud. This magnificent flowering and fading continue until early winter. I was deeply touched by what I saw and opened my sketchbook.
I am reminded of our mothers who harvested the cotton, manually wove it on spinning wheels, and sewed our clothes. They also made fluffy comforters with thick layers of cotton to keep us warm during the harsh winter months. Reflecting on their parental love and talented hands, I walk about the cotton fields.
On the mountain in front of the village I also find mountain chrysanthemums, which bloom in the frost-laden fall. The flower doesn’t lose its beauty or fragrance until the first frost falls in late fall. I pick one dainty flower and put in my pocket. Its deep fragrance remains on my hands for days. Mountain chrysanthemums represent all the charm and character of fall.
I think it best to drink green tea in spring and summer, and chrysanthemum tea in fall and winter. I put some dried mountain chrysanthemum flowers, given to me by an acquaintance a while ago, into a glass tea pot and brew them in boiling hot water. Their yellow color and aroma come alive, and the flowers swell into their original shape. I always find this captivating.
In early winter when the bleak winds blow and the landscape turns desolate, I feel grateful for these two flowers that bloom on this land. I reflect on and appreciate the kindness of cotton, which kept our ancestors warm in mid-winter, and the taste and aroma of mountain chrysanthemum tea. In a low voice I call someone’s name whom I would like to see again in this forlorn season. People say, “Good tea is like a beautiful person.” I want to encounter a beautiful person and share a cup of tea late into the night. Such human connections are precious this time of year.
Lee Ho-sin (pen name Hyeonseok) has released artworks and writings that emphasize the essence of interdependent living. He has put on 15 solo exhibitions and published books in Korean including: “Picture Diary Written on the Road” and “The Heart Yearning for the Forest”.