July-August 2017 | YUMI HOGAN

Maryland First Lady Yumi HoganYumi Hogan, "Nature of Melody II," Mixed Media on Hanji Paper (2017)Yumi Hogan, "Arirang Dokdo I" (2017)Yumi Hogan, "Nature of Symphony II" (2017)



An exclusive conversation with Maryland’S First Lady as her exhibit, “Nature’s Rhythmic Alliance,” opens at the Art League of Ocean City

Written By: Jonathan Westman

When do you recall first being influenced by art and when did you first know that art would shape your professional career and help mold the individual you are today? 

I enjoyed drawing when I was young. My art teacher always praised my work and said that I was talented, so I started dreaming of becoming an artist. I grew up on a small chicken farm in South Korea as the youngest of eight children. After the Korean War ended, my family did not enjoy a prosperous life. I vividly remember walking two miles to school each way, since there was no bus available to us. Those walks, seeing the countryside and the beautiful Korean landscapes, are what inspired me to pursue my dream of becoming an artist, and they continue to inspire many of my works to this day. 


You proudly celebrate your Korean heritage in your art, even using Sumi ink and textured Hanji paper in your creations. Can you describe their significance in your homeland and their attributes?  

I generally paint abstract landscapes, mixing both Eastern and Western themes and techniques. I use traditional Hanji papers made from the mulberry trees, with Sumi ink, as well as mixed media. The climate and natural environment of my hometown and Maryland are very similar, so my artworks show my impression of South Korean and Maryland landscapes — the combination of Western and Eastern nature. 


In 2016, you were honored by the International Leadership Foundation as the recipient of their Inspirational Leader Award. This year, you were presented with the 2017 Ellis Island Medal of Honor. What do these distinguished awards mean to you personally, especially with respect to your heritage as the first South Korean-born gubernatorial first lady in United States history? 

As a first-generation Korean-American, I am truly honored and grateful to have received this recognition, as I believe there were many others who were very deserving. Now I have heavier shoulders. I immigrated to the United States over 36 years ago. I never thought I would be here today, and I am constantly amazed and incredibly grateful to find myself in this position. I am humbled to think that I can be seen as a role model for the Asian-Pacific American community, and I strive every day to serve all Marylanders and bring our many vibrant and diverse communities together.


You lead a tremendously busy and public life as Maryland’s first lady. How do you balance the continuous demands of that role with finding the time, peace of mind and creativity to paint on a regular basis?

I’m learning every day to balance my roles as a mother, grandmother, artist, teacher and first lady. Serving the people of our wonderful state is the greatest honor of my life, but I cannot forget who I was before I became Maryland’s first lady: I am a mother of three daughters, a grandmother to two grandchildren, a supportive wife and a passionate artist. I always say, “Before I am the first lady, I am an artist.” I always pay attention to the surrounding environment, and I try to draw or paint at every opportunity. I especially treasure my teaching position at MICA [Maryland Institute College of Art] because it gives me the opportunity to be myself and connect with my fellow artists. 


Your art is critically acclaimed and has been shown in galleries in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Canada and South Korea — all within the past 10 years. How have you grown as an artist during this time, and how has your work evolved? 

I am very grateful that I can continue to draw and paint and have been able to open a lot of exhibitions in different places. My art has always depicted my childhood memories and the natural landscapes of my hometown in South Korea and Maryland, which have a lot in common. Both places have four seasons and have regions with mountains, ocean and farmland. My work has always shown who I am and where I came from, as it does to this day. I never gave up on my dream and have steadily created artworks. Comparing my past artworks to my recent work, I would say my current artwork shows how I have matured as an artist. 


You debuted 17 new works in 2017, including several paintings that are part of a continuing series. Walk us through this journey in terms of how long the collection took to create. Is there a theme or connecting thread among them, or did each have an individual inspiration? Is there one that means the most to you? If so, why?
The collection took several months. It’s hard to choose one that means the most to me because my work is a series themed in nature, and each one has a precious meaning to me. One memorable part of this collection for me is that a number of the works incorporate the hanbok, the traditional Korean dress.  


As first lady, you have made it a priority to share your love of the arts with Marylanders of all ages through education. You serve as the honorary chair of the Council for Arts and Culture at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, working with the University and Baltimore City to promote the arts. Tell us about this experience and how the endeavor is being received. 

For the past two years, I have tried to use my background as an artist to help people and build bridges between Maryland’s diverse communities. Since November 2015, as the honorary chair of the Council for Arts and Culture at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, I have worked with the university community and Baltimore City to promote the arts. I have also taught cancer patients at the Wellness House of Annapolis and people with disabilities at Make Studio. Every May, I host the First Lady’s Mental Health Awareness Youth Art Display in Annapolis to mark Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week in Maryland, which highlights the expressive power of art for children and youth. My goal is to encourage young artists’ dreams and give them courage and hope, so I also host a biannual First Lady’s Art Gallery Student Artwork Exhibition.


After Governor Hogan was diagnosed with stage 3 non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2015, you became a strong proponent of art therapy and the positive impact it can have on one’s health and wellbeing. Through your work teaching art classes to patients with cancer and people with disabilities, how has art helped these individuals physically, emotionally and spiritually? 

During my husband’s treatment, we befriended many of the pediatric patients and their families while the children received care. I continue to pray for them every day. My heart was broken to see pediatric patients lying on the bed while other children their ages run around and are very active. Therefore, I was trying to think how I can help them get up from their beds, to be more active and enjoy their time. Art therapy brightens a light in the darkness. While they are drawing or painting, they can forget their pain and have hope and dreams. I believe in the healing power of arts and positive impact of art therapy, and I have taught art classes to patients with cancer and their families, and to people with disabilities. Art gives dreams and hope to all people regardless of age, cultural background or socioeconomic status. As a mother, artist and caregiver, I am working to partner with Maryland hospitals, to bring art therapy to pediatric patients across the state. 


In July and August, you are the featured artist at the Art League of Ocean City and its Center for the Arts. What can we look forward to during your show?

At least 27 artworks will be on display, some of which are my recent artworks, done this year. 2017 Artist Statement: Yumi Hogan Exhibition: Nature of the Alliance at the OC Center for the Arts. My artwork is my interpretation and abstract vision of the harmony of nature. We human beings are part of nature like cool breezes, trees and flowing water. I feel this existence in the meaning of nature through the freedom of movement and unstructured imagery. All of our lives are connected in this way. Some of my works depict the sudden change that has affected my life. I began to use more colors and lines. The flowing colors and lines represent a childhood memory of my mother and grandmother making silk fabrics, carefully moving each silk strand in the air. I am reminded of the soft, colorful strands, swaying with the breeze. This work is my interpretation and abstract vision of the harmony of nature. We human beings are part of nature, like cool breezes, trees and flowing water. All of our lives are connected in this way. Rather than replicate a scene, each of my paintings has no beginning, no end and no focal point but represents a continuous flow, as if wondering through a dream. It is my intent to make people feel and understand the breadth of nature through my works.


What lies ahead in the near future for you as an artist? Do you already know what you’d like to embark upon next, or will that come to you over time? 

I look forward to continuing to teach at MICA and to help those in need — including by sharing the gift of art — as first lady. As an artist, I always follow where inspiration takes me, and I will certainly continue to do so. Stay tuned!  


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