A Calgary-based national arts centre focused on supporting artists with physical and developmental disabilities has been gifted a generous donation by a late Toronto-based sculptor.
Won Lee was an artist who lived with the effects from polio. He died in May 2021 after being diagnosed with cancer. His widow, Hyonchu Lee, wanted to keep her husband’s legacy alive.
“He knew he had a very limited time to live and for creating his art, but he kept going to the studio and working and working and working,” Hyonchu said.
“My husband always wanted to share his everything, he would love this moment.”
“This is part of his plan to push me and teach me how can we manage his legacy for a long time,” Hyonchu said.
Won’s family will retrofit his former workspace in order to provide a new space for artists with physical or developmental disabilities to showcase their work. His studio and gallery is located on Toronto’s vibrant Queen Street West.
Won’s friend Marilyn Robak said she’s inspired by the artist who overcame so much.
“He was born in Seoul, South Korea and developed polio while the Korean war was breaking out,” Robak said. “Polio was twisting his spine. His father was a communist and was wanted by police so he fled to the north, and his mother was being hounded by police so she escaped to the United States and left him behind. He was eight years old.
“He had a tremendous spirit and a joy in life and an intellect, and you would never know he’s been though all those horrible things.”
Robak said she is proud of what he leaves behind.
“This gives people a chance to be who they want to be and maybe never even dreamed they could be, and what’s better than that?” she said.
NaAC CEO Jung-Suk Ryu said the partnership with Won’s family is so valuable to the community.
“The biggest challenge is not the artist, it’s the environment they have to fight to get exposure and recognition,” Ryu said. “This will break down a lot of barriers. It gives us the presence across the country and that is invaluable for artists with disabilities.”
Artist Hyunwoo Kim has his work being featured in a space inside Calgary’s “The Pioneer.” Kim is known as Pixel Kim.
The hope is this donation will help replicate these artist installments at Won’s Toronto gallery.
“I’m happy. I make the best art and I am the best contemporary artist,” Kim said.
NaAC will also be the direct beneficiary of proceeds from the sales of Won’s works, which range from $50,000 to $1 million in value.
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