In July-August 2011, I was lucky enough to be invited by the Korean government to participate in the annual Gangjin Celadon Ceramics Festival where, along with other international ceramicists invited from the USA, Israel, Pakistan and Germany, we exhibited in an international ceramics exhibition and demonstrated our making techniques during the festival.
In return for our participation we were provided with yummy Korean meals, accommodation, and were treated to workshops devoted to local and traditional techniques given by Korean potters.
Korea has a long history of invasion and cultural assimilation, from the Mongols in the 13th century, the Japanese in the 16th century, and the Japanese again in 1910. Since independence in 1948, there has been an emphasis in Korea on revitalising cultural identity: the Gangjin Celadon Ceramics Festival has become a beneficiary of this South Korean government initiative.
As a group we began by arriving at Seoul Airport then travelled to Incheon, where we stayed overnight. Then we bused it way down to the other end of South Korea, Gangjin, where we stayed for a week while joining the festival.
The actual festival was a fantastic experience, with many new friends made. As ceramics has a huge cultural identity in Korea, the festival was visited not only by ceramics ‘geeks’ but by families and general members of the community who were treated to market stalls, hands-on making marquees and traditional tea ceremony experiences.
The second week of our stay we all climbed on a bus and embarked on a Korean government subsidised ceramic tour of South Korea. The tour involved visiting National Treasures, Master Potters, Tea Masters, Temples, Museums and Galleries. It was amazing!
The following week’s tour was a marathon effort, though well worth the on and offing of the bus. It is hard to fathom the value the government and people put on ceramics, when one comes from Australia, where artists have to struggle to make ends meet, and many give up altogether. In Korea ceramicists are well respected, and some are national treasures (and this is noted on posts outside their homes) or have titles as officially developing, maintaining and handing down certain ceramic traditions.
While on tour we travelled from Gangjin to Boseong to Hadong to Gimhae to Busan to Ulsan to Gyeongju to Daegu to Mungyeong to Suanbo to Yeolu to Icheon, then back to Incheon then on to Seoul, where we stayed in Insa-Dong, a suburb of Seoul. Here we were able to stay a few days and nights to explore and have free time. Insa-Dong is the cultural & arts hot spot of Seoul, and the food was great. Of course I did my fair share of shopping while in South Korea, both at the festival and while on tour. As well as clothes and present for family I also purchased some beautiful tableware and tea-bowls.
I had previously been exposed to the ‘tea ceremony’ via my research of Japanese Ceramics, and like most people believed that this is where all the tea traditions were founded. My Korean experience, and the knowledge I gained, particularly while on tour, changed this notion and fuelled my interest in this area of ceramic history. As a result I am currently compiling a book of my Korean experience, containing a brief history of Korea and Tea, and an extensive photo gallery of my ‘tea’ experiences while in Korea. I am constructing the book using Blurb, and hope to have it finished by the end of the month, at which time it will be available to purchase online.
Left & Below: Ancient Korean Ceramics showing tea-bowls in the foreground.