Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year from the future

Last night was new years eve here and we had a great time loading the kiln in the snow(really we did). We took a small break at midnight to enjoy some plum wine and peanuts. Although it was a very late night we realized it is easier helping someone else load their kiln than loading your own. Less pressure and decision making. Yesterday we received some images of the card that the gallery is making for the show.  It is about the size of a sheet of paper and folds in half. The image above is the front and back and the image below is the inside. We brought some pots from home to add to what we make here and Mr. Park took some interesting photos of them on an old table of Mr. Oh's. Well it will be new years eve at home soon and we hope you all have a great time!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A whole bunch of Buddhas and pagodas

The calm before the storm...On Sunday we did a little bit of tourist type activities. We went to Unjusa, or the 1000 Buddhas and Pagodas place.  This is a beautiful area not too far from Mr. Oh's studio.  Although there have been various studies conducted here, no one really knows exactly how old it is, or why there were so many stone Buddhas carved.  However, they are probably from the 7th or 8th century, and there are lots of legends about their creation.  Most of them involve the residents of the village or stone masons from heaven carving all 1000 Buddhas in one night. The reason was either to protect Korea from China, or to keep the Silla dynasty going forever, or to keep Korea from sinking into the sea, which apparently was a fear because there are more mountains on one side of Korea than another, and is therefore unbalanced.   Whatever the reason, it's a powerful and beautiful place full of inspiration!
Now there are only 94 Buddhas of varying sizes and about 50 pagodas. Unfortunately, this place has been pillaged over the many centuries, not excluding this one.

There's also lots of Buddha parts just lying around.
This was one of our favorites - two giant Buddha statues sitting back to back (here is only one of them) in a proportionally small stone house.  Look how the roof tiles are even notched into each other!
This pagoda looks like a bunch of onggi jars stacked on top of each other!
This one is beautifully perched on a slanted rock...

Well this is the last day of 2008, and it's also our last day to make pots!  Happy New Year!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Reality Check

Mr. Oh has been making tons of these small size onggis, Michael has been doing a slab-a-thon and making some slightly bigger onggis, and Naomi is carving up a storm.  Meanwhile, yesterday we finally did that thing that always strikes fear in a potter's heart: looked at the calendar (maybe it wouldn't strike so much fear if we didn't wait so long to do it!)  It may not be that legible, but needless to say, even for Michael and I (those who have helped us fire will attest) this is an insane schedule. For example, on Sunday we are planning on unloading the bisque, glazing the pots, loading and firing the kiln.  We don't usually bisque at home, so this adds another step, but on the other hand, since we're firing a gas kiln, the actual firing part is not so energy consuming. Mr. Oh  says "don't worry - no problem!" so we're not going to.
So here's a little slide show of Mr. Oh making the smaller onggis.  These jars would traditionally be used for fermenting smaller quantities of special fish and say bean paste.  Some people now use this size jar as water jars next to their tea tables.  This is about the smallest size you can make using the paddle and anvil technique, and Mr. Oh has often made jars up to five or six feet tall.  He made forty of these (with lots of interruptions) in two days.  Click here to see another slide show of making a medium size onggi.  First Mr. Oh throws out a slab.  Using coils to build larger jars is common around the world, but the slab technique is unique to the Cholla province in South Korea.  The first part of making the slab involves tossing it back and forth on the floor to lengthen it.
To lengthen the slab even more, you do a crazy flip move in the air.  Making the slab in this way strengthens and compresses the clay.  It is important to get the slab perfectly even, or else the wall of the pot will have a thin place and get off center later in the process.
This slab is formed into a cylinder on top of a pancake that is the bottom of the pot, and joined at the side and bottom.
Then the paddling begins!
In this technique, no water is used until the very rim, and you can leave the paddle texture on the pot.  Here Mr. Oh is using a rib to smooth out the form, and finish the shaping.
Then he uses a quilted cloth and a little water to shape the rim.
Here he is incising lines to determine where he will add a ridge on the pot.
He uses a very soft and small coil, and smears a ridge of clay through his fingers on to the pot.
Mr. Oh is experimenting with making these jars in his own new style, so he has also been scratching decorations on the pots, in addition to the traditional finger wipes through the glaze.  The picture at the top of the blog is a finished fired jar of this kind.  Well, we have to scram, and now you'll know what we're doing if you don't hear from us in a while!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Lunch Party, and Finger Wipe Party Too

Party time!  Today Mr. Oh's ceramics class came over and cooked us an amazing lunch.  Everyone brought something different, so just when you thought you couldn't eat any more, someone would bring out another course.  It was great home cooking. They are also a great group of women, or "ajumas," which is what you called married women in Korea. 
First we had puchingae, which is a pancake with lots of veggies and often seafood.  I don't think you can tell from the picture that this ajuma brought enough puchingae batter to feed an army.  Can you guess what we'll be eating for the next several days?  Luckily, it's the best puchingae we've had here yet (although a lot depends on how you cook it).
After a little breather we all sat down to eat rice, kimchi, chapchae (stir-fried sweet potato noodles with veggies and beef), and chang guk chan (fermented soy bean soup, this time with kimchi also).  Wow.  It was all really good too.  Then we all retired to Mr. Oh's ondol and ate apples, and then some chicken when someone else showed up with even more food.
For another feast for the senses, here are some photos of some of the great finger-wiping patterns we've been seeing on onggi jars...

Michael somehow escaped from all the eating for long enough to try out some new ideas on a batch of slab dishes.  After the slip dries some, he'll put them over the mold.  What fun! 

Thursday, December 25, 2008

An Onggi Christmas

We brought an evergreen branch into the studio today, and it's keeping company with Mr. Oh's proliferating onggi jars.  Lately he's been making lots of small pots and sculpture, but in the past few days he's been making this relatively small size onggi and experimenting with drawing on them. We also had some really nice gifts out of the kiln - lots of exciting clay/slip/glaze combos, as well as a few new forms.
We ended up taking a lot of pictures today with Mr. Park, the photographer at the elementary school, because the gallery needs more images for the catalogue.  Here are some of our new pots fresh out of the test kiln... They were basically glaze tests, but we really like some of them.  These are little animal boxes Naomi's been having fun with...

Michael made some cups with lots of different slip/glaze combos.  We're firing to cone 7 in reduction, and we're really into some of the possibilities this opens up.  The bird above on the left and the center cup are Mr. Oh's celadon glaze, which is really beautiful at this temperature.  The old Koryo celadon and punchong glazes were similar to this glaze, and also fired to around cone 7.
And lastly, a faceted bottle.  Merry Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas

When I (Naomi) was little and people asked me what religion I was, I would tell them that I was "half-Jewish, half-Christmas."  That summed it up really well, because Christmas was the only Christian holiday that we celebrated.  Hence, this is a bit of a difficult time to be away from family and friends, as Hanukkah and Christmas are pretty much at the same time this year.   We've been lighting Hanukkah candles every night, which has been really nice.  Like my impromptu menorah?  It gets bigger every night.  Even though there are a lot of Christians in Korea, Christmas is really not at all the thing it is in the USA.  It's kind of nice not to be bombarded by cheesy Christmas music everywhere you go, but it is a little strange to really not feel like it's that time of year.  So what are we doing on Christmas eve?  We're firing a kiln!  This is a small wood kiln that has a few sculptures and probably about 20 smallish pots.  We got started a bit late today, and have been going somewhat slowly due to one thick pot, so it's probably going to be a pretty late night.

But everyone says that unloading a kiln is just like Christmas, and that's exactly what we'll be doing tomorrow!  We're excited because other than some very small tests, these will be the first finished pots that we've made so far.  Well, we really miss everyone a lot, and hope that you are having cozy and fun holidays!

Monday, December 22, 2008

A different experience for Michael

In 2001 Michael spent 7 months studying Onggi with Mr. Oh. At that time Mr.Oh owned a factory near Kwangju, half of the factory made jiggered very small Onggi jars that were used as packaging for high end soy sauce and soy bean paste. The other half was devoted to making hand made traditional Onggi pots. Before 1980 there were 100s of Onggi kilns all over Korea but the 70's and 80's saw a rapid decline in hand made Onggi as people moved into apartments and no longer had space for Onggi. Also plastic and large jiggered Onggi replaced the old jars. Because Mr. Oh worked in Onggi potteries before most of them closed down, he got to know a lot of old Onggi masters. When we would drive around he would point out places where displaced Onggi potters worked. He would say " the guy pumping gas at that gas station used to be the best at making bottles, the security guard at that elementary school was the best at making the giant rice wine jars, the mechanic at that garage was the best at glazing" etc. He was able to hire some of these potters to work in the hand made part of his factory. When I was there, Mr. Oh had 6 wheels where old Onggi masters and students would work together making the production line of traditional forms. Mr. Oh unfortunately had little time to make anything himself because he had to run such a large operation.
Above is a photo of Mr. Yang, the old master who I worked with the most. At some points it was just he and I making the pots. My job was to bring him clay, glaze the pots, load the kiln, put spouts on pots, etc.,while he cranked pots. Below we are making clay in the funky old, diesel, Doctor Seuss roller crusher.
Glazing a big jar.... These large jars were an order from a rice wine company. If I threw out slabs for him, Mr. Oh could make two of these in a day.
In my free time I would practice making Onggi. For the first 4 months I smashed everything I made until I could work along side Mr. Yang making the pots. Towards the end of my stay I made an order of 10 each of all of the six sizes of jars. The photo at the top of the post is of some of those pots.

That experience was one of total immersion in Onggi. I totally forgot about my pots and devoted all of my energy to studying these pots and the technique. I really love Onggi pots and it was great to be able to focus and them. This visit has been very challenging in a very different way than before. Because we have the exhibition, Mr. Oh has really encouraged us to make pots along the lines of what we make at home. He thinks that people will respond well to them. The difficulty is that in 2001, I was only absorbing ideas, I could digest them when I got home. Now we have been absorbing tons of inspiration but have to digest it and make stuff really quickly. It is tempting to use this time to make a bunch of Onggi pots and punchong ware but we really need to make pots for the show and I do think people would be more interested to see what we make at home. The materials here, and seeing all the pots have already changed our pots, even the ones that are similar to what we make at home. Hopefully we can find a balance. Below are some slab pots that Michael has been making. We are excited about them, even though they are a continuation of slab pots that he makes at home, some how the experience here has broken open new possibilities.

A visit to Song Il Geun's

On Sunday we visited the house and studio of Song Il Geun.  Michael visited his studio a number of times in 2001, and was really excited to go back.  Mr. Song used to be an oil delivery man in the 1980's, and one of his deliveries was to Mr. Oh's first studio.  Mr. Song was very interested in pottery, and started to make pottery at Mr. Oh's studio.  Mr. Oh says he was a "bad" student because he was so excited he never could wait for his pots to dry before cutting the feet or adding handles!  Now he makes some really incredible pottery, along with sculpture.  He moved back to his home village and has built  an amazing compound of traditional clay and straw buildings.  He's also a half time farmer. Above are three of his sculptures sitting on some beautiful old onggi jars, and below are his studio and showroom.  Mr. Song has found hundreds of shards of punchong pots from the choson dynasty around his village, and you see these shards everywhere around his place.  Lots of great foot-rings to look at!
Notice in the picture above and below the onggi chimneys, which connect to the ondol heating system.

Here's the front of his beautiful house (made by him and his wife).  It has clay walls covered in handmade paper on the inside.  
Mr. Oh helped Mr. Song build this wood kiln in 2002.

Hanging from the eaves of the house are traditionally made blocks of meju - the first step in making traditional Korean soy sauce and soy bean paste.  After hanging under the eaves and fermenting for the winter, the meju is placed in large onggi jars with water and salt to ferment more.
We bought two pots from Mr. Song that we are really excited about.  These photos don't really do them justice, but unlike a lot of pots we've seen, they are funky and a little wobbly in a way that feels really honest - hard to pull off!
Here's the foot of the bowl on the left...  Our visit to Mr. and Mrs. Song's was very short, and we really hope to visit them again before we go and spend some more time in their gorgeous house.