Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Now it all makes sense...

Readers: I am directing this post to another dear potter that I feel has had a major impact on who I am as both a clay artist and a teacher. He was there when I first started to teach ceramics and has consistently been the source of inspiration and information since. I am also directing it to anyone that has ever been on a firing crew with me at his kiln. You too have added to my experience as a teacher and pushed me out of the nest so to speak.

Dear Chris,
We woke to rivers rushing and dozens of cranes fishing in the rice patties. There was sun and blue skies and despite the promise that last night's typhoon would bring cooler temperatures, it was hazy, hot and humid. What else is new for Korea in August? We had a packed itinerary for today, visiting two local artists, a tea plantation and a museum in the area surrounding Gangjin.
Our first stop was Lee Huk Soo's Ongi studio. We witnessed the whole operation, from the potters working for him creating a variety of ongi sizes and table ware, to his glaze room, kiln's and clay processing areas. He told us about the 50/50 mix of clay to ash he uses for summer pots and the 60/40 mix he uses for winter pots. I had never thought about ongi colors, while subtle, they serve a functional purpose. The gas kiln you could park a train in. I actually think it was about the length of your anagama. His father's naborigama, proudly displayed next to his, is not operational at the moment, it in desperate need of repair. He only fires his wood kiln for exhibition work. The whole place was impressive and he was extremely gracious. As I turned to leave the kiln area I noticed the stairway up into the dormitory with its light grey carpeting, packing supplies and boxes as neatly stacked as the ongi in the room below. It seemed oddly familiar, reminiscent of the days prior to the renovation of the coop. Actually, the phrase "now it all makes sense" was uttered loudly enough for the rest of the group to hear it. For some reason there was this flash into your life in Dartmouth, and the struggle to have a business that could keep your artwork alive was mirrored here. Its not that I had never understood that before, but today, it was like an epiphany!

Our next studio stop was quite interesting. We went to see this tile maker, Han Wan Joon, who is the sole remaining artist to continue the tradition of making roof tiles by hand in the country. His family has been in the business for 2000 years. He is currently working on a government project that involves 30,000 roof tiles made in the traditional way. He says it will take him 2 to 3 years at 140 tiles a day. When we arrived his crew was busy making tile, putting the finishing touches on a bigger kiln, and preparing clay. It almost seemed that our group was overwhelming to the tasks at hand but still he was so happy to share it with us. He build a humidity tent out of a greenhouse frame covered in plastic. His studio is made out of clay, straw, and logs, and the kiln itself was being constructed out of raw brick, which will be fired with the first firing of the kiln and after yesterday's typhoon, things were a bit washed away. The whole place was raised of earth. I was in awe. Seeing someone work that hard at something at that age in those conditions made me really appreciate the essence of work. This man, despite inheriting his family business as his ancestors had for two centuries before was genuinely happy to do what he does. The sad part was that he has 9 daughters and no son to pass it on to.
After our trip to the studio we headed to one of the many local pottery museums (Yoengam). We didn't have much time to explore but time aside I must say that this small museum was well put together and worth the trip. The exhibited pottery ranged in age (30,000 BC to the present) and was representative of local pottery. One floor was dedicated to potters inspired by local pottery. There was an exhibit of Nagagawa Isaku, an Okinawa potter. Several of his pieces reminded me of Steve Murphy's work.
My time here has made me appreciate the opportunities I have as well as understand that there is much more to be done. After spending a day with large pots and tile I say to you that "now it all makes sense..." Kamsahamnida! You have helped me see a great deal.
Have fun playing with mud today!

1 comment:

Pete said...

You have no idea how interesting your blog is, and I appreciate the time it takes you to write. I can't imagine the wealth of information that you are most definitely going to benefit from, beacause of this trip. I'd buy the book.