In 2015, Esther Cho was an Interior Design major ready to graduate. But a passion for woodworking stoked two years prior—when she took a class with assistant professor Heath Matysek-Snyder, the head of the wood shop—encouraged her to turn around and stay at VCUarts just a while longer.

“Right as I was about to graduate,” says Cho, “I decided to declare Craft/Material Studies as my second major and commit another two years at VCU to learn more about the medium and push my design skills with the knowledge I gained from interior design.”

For Cho, woodworking has become an expression of herself and her heritage. Her art is a deft combination of interior design and craft, where she repurposes the familiar and functional designs of home to reflect a personality or a lineage. For Cho’s wooden piece Generation, a small shelf-like object is inset with photographs depicting three generations of women in her family. When the piece is rotated, the interlocking planks spell out three names in Korean. Her other pieces feature quotations from her grandmother on the Japanese colonization of the Korean peninsula, as well as traditional Korean woodworking techniques.

Ester Cho, “Generation.” Photo by Terry Brown for VCUarts.

While making many of her projects, especially her large-scale furniture, Cho spent plenty of late nights and all-nighters in the studio. But for her, that time working with her peers “helped us grow as artists, makers, or designers, both individually and as a whole. We became a close-knit family.”

As her 6-year journey comes to a close, Cho has been reminiscing about what made learning and working at the School of the Arts so special. “In college, it is often difficult to establish a great student-professor relationship, but at VCU, that’s not the case. All my professors, including assistant professors and adjunct professors, have not only been a mentor to me, but also a friend.”

Beginning this August, Cho will travel the U.S. as a recipient of the prestigious 2017 Windgate Fellowship Award. In November, she will return to South Korea to continue her research on traditional papermaking and related arts.

Featured image courtesy of VCUarts.


May 4, 2017