Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Tour of the Icheon Traditional Korean Kiln

My dear Korean friend and I took the bus today to the 30th annual Icheon Ceramics Festival. When I stopped to take a photo of the large traditional kiln, a man immediately came up to us and invited us to go with him for a personalized tour. With near giddy excitement, he eagerly shared with us (in Korean) some information about the traditional Korean kiln firing process. Through my friend Hae Jung who interpreted for me, I learned that the firing process is about 20 hours and gets to around 1,200°C.
Our guide was an assistant to a Korean ceramics master. He explained that pine wood is used to heat the kiln. It sounded like the sap of the pine wood is particularly conducive to the firing process. The mounded shape enables air to naturally circulate. The kiln is sloped upward, so as to draw the smoke up the chimney. After the kiln section is loaded with pieces, the opening is closed with bricks. An opening enables checking of the temperature. He was very partial to the traditional kiln firing method and believed it resulted in higher quality ceramics. He also added that the Chinese were very impressed by Korean ceramics and during the Goryeo dynasty, the Chinese came over to Korea to learn about its advanced ceramics techniques.
After a little while, some people began gathering near the kiln. Many were wearing gloves and eagerly watched on as one man took a knife to loosen the bricks around one opening. After the bricks were removed, a man went inside and began unloading the kiln. Gloved artists were giddy with excitement as their pieces were pulled out.

This man inspected one of his master's pieces, which was damaged by high temperature. 
Thankfully, most fared much better. These white porcelain pieces reminded me of the revered baekja pieces dating back to the 14th century.
Our guide remarked that during his visit to the USA, he was treated with kindness and found Americans to be very helpful. He wanted us to come again so he could give us an even more thorough tour and even meet his ceramics Master, followed by lunch. Alas, as my departure is just a few weeks away, I don't think this will be possible. I'm grateful for this tour and will add it to my list of wonderful experiences in Korea.

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