JEJU ISLAND, South Korea, Sept. 14 (Xinhua) -- Mushroom-looking lava rock statues with expressive faces are a ubiquitous presence on the convoluted alleys on Jeju Island, a semi-tropical resort island off the southern tip of South Korea.
Some look a little grumpy, while others seem amused. Complete with a hint of smile, Dolharubangs, or "stone grandfather" statues, stand like guardian angels watching over the picturesque island.
Why exactly people started carving statues from black basaltic rocks -- another universal feature on the volcanic island -- remains an enigma, though many associate them with Shamanism- induced wishes for protection and fertility.
Master sculptor Jang Kong-ik, who runs a park dotted with hand- carved Dolharubangs of all sizes and shapes, said his lifelong devotion to these iconic statues began simply as a business idea.
"We islanders made souvenirs for tourists, only to see people from the mainland copy them. So I started making souvenirs from basaltic rocks, which are hard to find outside Jeju," said Jang, whose 58 years of artistic creation is on magnificent display at Geumneung Seogmulwon in the city of Hallim.
A petite man in his 80's, Jang gradually turned a piece of land measuring 33,000 square meters into an outdoor sculpture garden that eventually won him recognition both at home and abroad.
His small-sized Dolharubangs have been given to the likes of former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, a feat proudly displayed with carbon copies of the statues.
In one corner of the verdant garden stands a miniature village complete with straw-thatched houses and stone statues of islanders going about their everyday lives.
In a humorous display, a guy sneaks a peek at his naked neighbor. A voluptuous woman nearby operates a horse-driven mill, flashing her large buttocks for everyone to see.
With wet suits and goggles still on, a group of female divers, known as Haenyo here, play with their kids in a rare moment of peace and quiet after a day's toil at the sea.
There are also statues based on local folk tales An imposing statue depicts Seolmundae Halmang, or Jeju's goddess, breastfeeding her offspring. Master Jang gave her three breasts.
Equally awe-inspiring is a gigantic Dolharubang reminiscent of Easter Island's Moai statues, surrounded by mini pagodas of pebbles laid on top of each other by travelers in a wish for good luck.
Jang still works almost every day in his humble workplace next to the garden, often surrounded by curious tourists who hardly conceal their amazement as they watch a figure emerge from a rock.
"I had a natural affinity for stones," the artist said as he hammered a piece of porous rock bigger than himself, with his face and loose-fitting clothes covered with stone dust.
Fame brought him more financial stability, but he has not grown complacent.
"I am going to continue sculpting," Jang said. "It's still fun. "