09.19 Wed

National

Doll maker fulfills wife's dying wish

June 30,2018
Left: Park Sung-il, head of J.K.S Artwork, a manufacturer of plush toys, holds up Goma, a character he designed. His company makes dolls based on children’s drawings and donates them. Right: A child smiles with a doll that J.K.S Artwork made based on her drawing. [COMPASSION KOREA]
Park Sung-il, 51, has spent the past two decades making plush toys and stuffed animals. His company, J.K.S Artwork, was responsible for making the stuffed mascots at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the Incheon Asian Games in 2014 and the FIFA U-20 World Cup last year.

But of all the designs that Park has made, his most prized is Goma, a polar bear who finds dolls and leaves them on children’s doorsteps. Every doll that Goma delivers becomes a child’s best friend.

Park considers Goma his alter ego. He himself had always wanted a doll that could stand beside a child and stay until adulthood to evoke past memories. Business gets busy, but Park always finds time every year to do one thing: create stuffed animals based on children’s sketches.

The project started four years ago. At the time, Park’s wife, Jung Kum-shin, the company’s founder and namesake, was fighting cancer. She was hospitalized at the eight floor of the National Cancer Center in Gyeonggi. Just one floor above was the children’s ward.
After seeing young patients there, Jang suggested, “We made a good living on dolls. If I get better and we both make it past 60, I want to present dolls to kids that really need them.”

In their first year, the couple made 40 stuffed toys that looked identical to pictures in letters that children sent to Santa Claus.
“For a whole year, my wife and I sat down at her ward making dolls and delivering them to each parent right before Christmas time,” Park recalled. The kids were told the gifts had come from Santa Claus.

It was exactly what Park and Jang wanted. Every time a parent stopped by Jang’s room to tell them how thrilled a child was by the present, the couple felt great happiness. They made a promise to continue making dolls for these children in the future.

In November 2016, Jang passed away, but Park continues to fulfill their vow. Now, he not only makes dolls for children at the cancer center — he also does it for people who study at community child centers and young clients that occasionally send hand-drawn letters to the company.

“I ask parents to tell their kids that the dolls are not sent by me, but Goma the bear,” he said.
Last year, J.K.S Artwork delivered over 300 stuffed toys as part of the project.

In September, Park plans to travel with Goma to Mount Kilimanjaro to visit Nancy, a five-year-old child whom Park is supporting through Compassion Korea, a nonprofit for children. During the journey, he plans to deliver 500 stuffed Gomas to local children.

Park hopes to continue making dolls at the company, even when his hair grows white, he says. He will introduce Goma at a character fair next month and receive drawings from kids that will be turned into stuffed toys. They will be offered for free as presents. Park added that he has no plans to sell dolls made under the project for money.
Why does he continue to do this project?

“First, I made a promise to my wife,” he said. “Second, I like this work. It’s a hobby for me, just as golfing and hiking are for friends of my age. This is something that I really feel satisfaction and happiness in doing.”

BY HONG SANG-JI [song.kyoungson@joogang.co.kr]
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