Posted in Ceramics on May 3rd, 2010 by admin
|Korean pottery today is still largely produced as it was in the past. For a practicing potter it provides a living case study of historical ceramic processes and techniques. Potter’s wheels, kilns, tools and other equipment are still made as they were in years past. Machinery is too expensive to warrant its purchase and maintenance relative to the cost of man power. Glaze materials are still ground from the parent rock materials using ingenious two-man pounders. Within a period of six days, two men working full time can only produce about sixty pounds of pulverized material. No ceramic supply houses offer ready made equipment or processed materials suitable for instant use. Immense quantities of wood must be transported, chopped and split. In the Vi dynasty the proximity of kilns to forests was more important than to kaolin deposits. Today the forests-are seriously depleted; special permits are issued for the purchase and burning of wood. It is an expensive fuel but less so than either oil or propane which are imported products. Natural gas does not exist.
The complexity of the ceramic process is taken for granted, as is the necessity for a division of labor. Chopping wood, mixing and decanting clay, slicing, stacking and firing are assigned to specialists. The authorship of the pottery when it emerges from the kiln is diffuse, since it is the result of the coordinated effort of many hands.
There are four major categories of ceramics produced in Korea today:
- Onggi, or earthenware utensils, used for a variety of purposes, but primarily for the storage of pickled vegetables, bean pastes and soy sauces – staple items of the Korean diet.
- Reproduced Koryo and Vi dynasty forms, for sale primarily to the Japanese market.
- Tea bowls, again for the Japanese market.
- Pottery produced within university ceramic departments, reflecting, in varying degrees, exposure to outside influence.
Of the above categories, onggi is of the greatest interest to the Occidental potter. The techniques and methods used are virtually unknown in the West. The Korean potter is able to produce monumental size jars with a speed that seems incredible when witnessed by a Western potter. The methods of coil, paddle and wheel construction are outside the spectrum of ceramic skills in the West, particularly in terms of speed and size.
Because of recent developments in the use of various metals, artificial resins, and the growth of in9ustrial ceramics in Korea there is a danger that the production and use of hand· crafted vessels will die out. Moreover, modern materials and processes may be found to be preferable to onggi ware, which is less durable, heavier and higher in price than mass produced pots. Working against this possibility, however, is the conservative character of Koreans and their firm belief that the taste of kimchi would be adversely affected by storage in anything but onggi ware. On the other hand, the new reforestation laws pose a fundamental danger to the continued firing of onggi kilns. Wood is scarce and expensive and imported oil is more so. There seems to be no solution to the high ecological and financial costs of fuel. Thus, it is difficult to predict the future of onggi pottery in Korea. But, for the present, at least, the Western potter is still able to observe the traditional skills of the Korean potter.