Lately a number of historical significant items have been returned to Korea – items that were alleged to have been stolen by U.S. soldiers. It should be noted that in some cases these items were bought from Koreans – although the buyer should have been a little suspicious such as Sergeant Giltner who was approached by a Korean selling antiques from his cart:
One item, a huge carpet – nearly eighteen and a half feet long and about eight feet wide – made from the matched pelts of 48 leopards immediately caught Giltner’s attention. Although he didn’t explain how he had come by the carpet, the Korean peddler claimed “it was worth at least $25,000 and came from the Chang Duk palace in Seoul.” He was willing to sell it for a mere 150,000 Korean won – worth about $25 USD. Giltner promptly bought it and in a letter to his parents wrote that he was sending them “a pretty nice Korean rug” that he had picked up.
After the carpet was sent home, a Korean diplomat recognized the carpet as having come from Queen Min’s bedroom. It was returned to the Korean government but now it has been speculated that the carpet was not the queen’s.
In a September statement, the museum said there was “credible evidence” that its Royal Seal with Knob in the Form of a Turtle was “removed unlawfully from the National Shrine in Korea.”
“While LACMA has not received a formal request from the Korean national government, we have reached out to them to discuss the results of our research and a mutually satisfactory resolution, including the return of the Royal Seal to Korea,” the statement said.
An official at the state-run cultural heritage administration told The Associated Press that South Korea in May asked the United States to investigate how the seal ended up at the Los Angeles museum known for showcasing art from ancient times to the modern era.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing department rules, said U.S. homeland security officials have confiscated the seal, as they investigate.
But not every item coming back to Korea is coming back by legal force. A large number of Joseon era wooden birds are being given to a univeristy in Korea by a Japanese collector in the hopes of generating goodwill:
Haruo Yahashi, 79, owner of a surveying firm, has collected 140 such artworks, many of which were made in the 19th century and were used as gifts, ever since he fell in love with an elegantly sculpted bird he saw at an antique store in Tokyo some 30 years ago.
He will donate them to Daegu Health College in the city of Daegu in southeastern South Korea.
Many of the sculptures are 20 cm to 40 cm long and weigh between 3 and 5 kg. Some are painted in bright colors such as red and yellow, while others are covered with gold foil, a sign that they were originally owned by wealthy Koreans.
Mr. Haruo Yahashi explained his reasons for giving the gifts as, ”Japan-South Korea relations are facing difficulties now, but I hope my donation will help promote exchanges on a grass-roots level.”