Thursday, November 5, 2009

Gimhae Celadon Ceramics Fesival

A festival, chook-jae, as we call them here, was in store last weekend. It was a ceramics festival which had traditional Korean pottery on display. We went with our friends Mike and Alissa to Gimhae which is about 15 minutes from Busan for all you geographers. The trip there which was composed of 6 buses and two taxi rides round trip, was very interesting and half of the experience.

We have found many of the Korean festivals to be similar in style. They always have the long white rows of tents, the food areas, the carnival areas, and a huge stage that is well equipped the latest in lights and sound.

A far as the pottery went, it was very interesting. We had fun analyzing the many styles and techniques.

There were some booths with expensive, artistic and individually unique pieces with more of a art only appeal. Other potters had some very original, reasonably priced pieces which were geared towards functionality and, some had cheap mass produced factory pieces.
The large celadon vases/pots were very very expensive ranging in prices from $1000 to as much as $30,000 for the wood fired pieces. We treated those booths like museums.

Traditional Korean tea cups.

They had an area where children could practice their pottery skills.
Korean celadon is a highly celebrated and specialized art. The secrets of celadon craftsmanship date back to the 10 and 11th centuries. We learned that it was one of the principal interests in Japanese invasions. The Japanese, sought after and took many extremely valuable celadon relics as well as the craftsmen who were seasoned professionals of the trade. Even today it is illegal to export a special blend of clay from central Korea that is used specifically for the finest of pieces.

Traditionally wood fired kilns were used for firing, but with the introduction of gas and electric kilns, the production of fine ceramics was streamlined. This, therefore reduced the number of flawed pieces and lowered prices, allowing more celadon to be used as a functional pottery for middle and even lower classes. The wood fired pieces remain extremely valuable.
We had the chance to see some traditional kilns that were in use for the festival. The kilns stayed fired for three days at a few thousand degrees. We were happened to be there for the most exciting stage of the process. The opening of the kilns. A friendly Korean man by the name of Charlie (no kidding), who spoke fantastic English came up to us and offered to explain everything. What a surprise. As the bricks were removed and the artists climbed inside. We began to hear smashing and breaking. Charlie explained that if there were minute flaws in the piece it was destroyed. Only the finest results of the firing were kept. We learned that three out of ten pieces met the artists standards on a good day. Not a single flawed piece is sold or spared. Wood firing is tricky and they have a reputation to uphold.
Many beautiful pieces emerged from the small dark brick holes. They were very very expensive pieces explained Charlie. One large vase had a bubble in the backside. We watched the artist pick up a brick obliterated the vessel. It was very sad.
A peek at the pots inside the kiln, nervously awaiting inspection and removal.
Seeing the kilns and speaking to Charlie was the highlight of the day. Although the rest of the festival was very typical of the others that we have attended, it was an adventure. Who could complain about that? We loved it.


Jeff said...

Lovely and fascinating, both. In the second picture, Chelsie looks quizzical ... is it about the design or the price? That guy in the backpack makes me nervous. If he turns around wrong, there goes $30K. I hope he's fleet of foot. I like the stair-stepped kilns; smart. Too bad you couldn't have snagged one imperfect pot, or at least a beautiful shard for an ash tray. Well, carry on. What do they serve for Thanksgiving in Korea?

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