Our Neighbors: Kisook Suh–From Seoul to Tarrytown; Working at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
By Linda Viertel—-
It’s been an extraordinary journey for Tarrytown resident, Kisook Suh, one that brought her from her birthplace, Seoul, Korea to our Hudson River village; a professional journey from the fashion industry to textile conservation, working with textiles from East Asia, the Middle East, and medieval Europe.
After Suh’s initial studies in Korea, her interest in fashion as expressions of culture led her to work in the fashion industry. However, soon she became disenchanted with the fashion system. As she said, “The system needs change for the sake of change. In professional trend forecasting, I believed my work was delivering messages and then had to ‘obsolete them’ just to come up with something new. It was not for me. I wanted something opposite that I could continue to pursue.”
She searched for and found an academic program that matched her love for art exhibitions and museums: Museum Studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City. “The program introduced me to the world of conservation. It was eye-opening,” Suh noted. Her studies enabled her to have internships at the Antonio Ratti Textile Center and the Department of Textile Conservation, and ultimately to become a textile conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) where she is now working as Associate Conservator.
Right after her graduation from FIT, she was offered a position at the National Folk Museum of Korea in Seoul. “The obedient daughter,” as she noted, went back home and worked learning about Korean costume collections in the museum. When she found an opportunity to return to The Met as a recipient of an Andrew W. Mellon fellowship, she traveled to many museums in North America and Europe searching for Korean costumes and textiles that were scattered abroad. The research experience made her realize the amazing support The Met would provide for her professional development, and she accepted a job offer at the end of the fellowship.
Having returned to The Met, Suh is currently working on medieval tapestries in The Cloisters collection, specifically the King Arthur tapestry from the renowned Nine Heroes Tapestry series, housed in its own gallery at The Cloisters. Suh’s previous work at The Met includes the preparation of textiles for the re-openings of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Southern Asia galleries.
Suh met her husband, current Tarrytown Trustee David Kim, through a mutual friend in a church fellowship group in New York City. As Suh describes their first time together, “We met at The Met.” Though Kim was living in California, a long-distance relationship soon developed, and they were married in 2009, with one wedding in Seoul and one in San Francisco for both families.
Living in a small East Side apartment within walking distance to The Met soon became a bit more trying, especially with two little ones now in the family getting ready to attend school. Kim’s positive experience in public schools, which he felt had supported him in his early academic years, and the couple’s desire for a more community-based life led them to Tarrytown.
They visited Tarrytown on a beautiful spring day and found themselves in Patriots Park at Duck Derby Day! The children were delighted, and Suh immediately engaged in a conversation with a costumed representative from Historic Hudson Valley, talking about a blanket made of hand spun wool and woven with instruction by Sister Bianca, the founder of the Weaving Center at Marymount Convent. David started talking to a young parent about her experience of growing up in Tarrytown and bringing her children up in the village as well. They were “hooked.”
Suh and Kim moved to Tarrytown that summer, in 2016, to a home in Miller Park, where Kim’s parents later joined them from California. The three generations including their daughter, age 10, and their 6 year-old son are grateful to be together under one roof, especially in this challenging time.
Suh’s journey has come full circle. The Nine Heroes Tapestries series she is currently conserving at The Met was donated by John D. Rockefeller, and now she finds herself strongly connected to the Rockefellers by virtue of living near his former home. “I grew up in Seoul and lived only in New York City before moving to Tarrytown,” she explained, “and felt anonymous. Such a change, living in a small village – I don’t feel anonymous anymore. Everyone cares about their neighborhoods here; there’s such a community, and it all feels natural.”