www.whyville.net Jan 18, 2009 Weekly Issue

Times Writer

The Korean Potter

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For the last two years I have been shown a short documentary in my studio class a few times. I find this particular film to be very moving. It is a documentary of potters in Korea who make vessels for kimchi. They may not still be in existence due to a lack of fuel for firing the kilns in Korea.

In Korea, the clay process is completely unknown to Western pottery. They do not use gas for firing their wares, and they do not use electricity in aid of producing the clay and glazes. The clay is transported from a mine where they get the kaolin to flat fields near the potter's workshop. Here, women mix the clay in dug out vats. Water is added from the settle vat next to it by opening a small hole in a dike separating the two. The clear pure water flows back into the vat and the clay is mixed. When it is mixed, it is passed through a sieve into the settling flat, so that no foreign objects will get into it. Once all the clay has passed through it, only small rocks and stones, sometimes vegetable matter remain in the sieve and vat. The vat is shoveled out and the sieve cleaned and the process is started over again. Once the settling vat is full, the clay is then moved to the drying flats. Here the flats are covered with cloth and the clay is poured out. The women use small levies to walk along to dispense the clay. The wind and sun dry the clay up, causing cracks to form, these cracked out pieces are then transported into the potter's workshop.

In the workshop, worker's known as "Hardy Boys" slice the clay into paper thin stripes. When they have about 50lbs of clay sliced off, they roll it into a ball and then stack the balls in a rectangle about ten feet long and three feet high and wide. Once the rectangle is completed they pound the clay with mallets to create uniformity of the texture. Once the clay has been pounded, it is sliced again and rolled, and restacked, but this time it is stacked in the middle of the workshop floor near the potter's wheels. After it has been pounded a second time with both the head and side of the mallet, it is flipped over (the entire mass square) and pounded on the bottom, first with the head of the mallet, and then the side. All of this is done with amazing grace and ease. Using a wooden shovel the clay is broken off into 50lb lumps and distributed among the potter's assistants.

The assistants then wedge out balls of clay and begin to roll them into coils that are about 2 inches in diameter and six feet long. These are laid next to the potter's wheel for their use later. The assistants also wedge out discs to be the bottom of the pots. They stack these next to the wheel also. They do this with amazing speed and agility. It is truly something that needs to be seen to be appreciated.

The potters use traditional kick wheels and as such use motor skills unknown to western potters. The place the disc on the wheel and add the coils one at a time using only wooden pounding tools to compress the clay together. Working with unbelievable speed they throw pots quite large. To make the lids they simple add only one coil to a disc.

The pots are moved, generally with three people using a cloth sling out into the yard where they will dry for a few days. They are simply glazed by being dipped into red lead oxide glazes. Sometimes ornamentation is drawn on with their fingers, things like orchids. They are set out then to dry also.

After a thousand large pots are made (roughly three days) they begin to load the kiln. The kiln is a traditional wood smoke kiln built on a hill. The kiln hold one thousand large pots, and each large pot is fired with two smaller pots stacked inside. The lids are stack and then stacked on the top of the large pots. The fire is started and stoked for 48 hours, then sealed off. They proceed to use the stoke holes on the top to feed the fire. When it reaches the white hot stage, the fire pit is completely sealed off and only the flues remain open. If the pots are glowing a glistening orange, the kiln is hot enough and the flues are sealed off. The kiln then will sit for a further six days to cool. Once the kiln is cool, everyone at the shop helps to unload the kiln.


Author's Note: Sources: Ron du Bois, potter and instructor of ceramics at Oklahoma State University, spent 18 months in Korea on a Fulbright scholarship. His work with the folk potters of Korea resulted in an award winning film, The Korean Potter, which can be obtained through The Daniel Clark Film Library, Box 315, Franklin Lakes, NJ 07417.


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