Peace Corps Volunteers donate Korean art collection worth $250,000

An American couple who came to Korea in 1969 to work as Peace Corps volunteers have donated the art they collected during their six years here. The 140 items donated last year were valued at a quarter of a million dollars, they said.

At first, their family tried to talk the lively 70-somethings out of giving away such a large amount of their money.

“But it’s money we never really had,” Gary Mintier remarked when sharing their story.

Gary and his wife Mary Ann had done most of their art shopping in what they referred to as “Mary’s Alley,” an old term for central Seoul’s Insa-dong, which has been known for housing a market selling art and antiques. Most of the art they purchased was priced very cheaply, as Korea was a poor country in those days, and centuries-old art wasn’t a high priority.

The Mintiers first lived in Busan before moving to Seoul in December 1970. They spent much of their time in Seoul living at the House of Baek In-je, which is now a museum and cultural heritage site in central Seoul’s Bukchon Hanok Village. While they lived here, their first daughter Renai was born and brought home to this historic house.

When their time in Korea ended in 1975, they brought the art collection back to the United States with them. By that time, the Korean government was starting to crack down on the exportation of cultural heritage, and Gary recalled they needed to apply for permission to bring the art pieces with them.

Over the ensuing decades, their art collection remained a cherished part of their lives and helped keep Korea in their minds — as well as the minds of family and close friends. They taught their children and later their grandchildren about Korea and continued to make Korean food at home.

Mary Ann described how they would change the art on display with the changing of the seasons. Gary recalled that when their daughter visited the National Library exhibition, she pointed to an ancient woodblock, which she said she had once brought to school for show and tell. The woodblock had been made by Confucian scholar Yi Yu-jang (1625-1701).

The Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation facilitated the Mintiers’ donation to the National Library, helping keep all donated items together in one collection. Currently, all the items are housed at the National Library in southern Seoul, where some of them are on display for the next few months.

“I feel like I was a guardian of these pieces for the Korean people,” Gary said in a written introduction on display at the National Library’s ancient literature collections room. “Back in the 1970s, I could better afford to purchase these types of pieces than most Koreans. But Korea has come a long way since that time, and so they should go back home to where they belong and can be enjoyed by many more Koreans. They are back home, and we could not be any happier.”

The Mintiers returned to Korea on March 26 for a visit that is still ongoing. As well as traveling all the sites they remember in Korea and Japan, they’ve been showing around at least seven children, children-in-law and grandchildren who have visited at various different times over the months. During this time, they went on a temple tour in Busan with temple blogger Dale Quarrington and attended a Royal Asiatic Society Korea lecture that was a tribute to their friend Peter Bartholomew, who moved to Korea in 1968 and stayed here until his death in 2021.

On April 22 the Mintiers attended a donation ceremony at the National Library, where their donation was unveiled along with other donated items also returned to Korea by other donors.

“How can you speak about seeing artifacts that have been with you most of your life? I thanked the people who helped find a safe place for all of them, told how it happened and turned the mic over to Mary Ann,” Gary said of the experience. “When she really realized that this was happening, she started crying and could not stop. I was crying with her. But she regained her composure and told how these were part of our life. How when we would see them every day it would connect us to Korea. The deal was done.”

But do they regret giving up the art trove?

“In the almost seven years we lived in Korea, Korea gave us so much. More than most people could imagine,” Gary wrote. “So, if we can give this one little bit back to Korea, we are happy.”

Visit to read more about Gary and Mary Ann’s donation and their 2024 visit to Korea.


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  • wow—how noble of the Mintners it makes me proud to have been a Peace Corps colleague of theirs though from an earlier time (1963-67) in faraway from Korea in India—yet the PC soul threads through it all. My friend Sargent Shriver would be very proud of them.

  • Gary and Mary Ann, Thank you for gift. Also thank you for the heart full of joy you have given me.

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