Once baked in one of the center's two kilns, the hand-crafted tea sets and pots must stand for nine months before they can be used. Photos courtesy Jeju Pottery Ceramic Center
Through fields of Eulalia grass, down a narrow road near Daejeong, one can find Jeju’s first modern, traditional pottery center- the Jeju Ceramic Pottery Center.
This seemingly random location, down a narrow road, was chosen for very specific reasons. Years ago, the center’s visionary founder Kang Cheon-eon searched for a plot of land with dark, fertile, volcanic soil- which is best for making Jeju traditional pottery. Kang’s pottery uses nothing but the richness found in Jeju soil, no extra chemicals, no glaze, nor any substances harmful to the earth or the body.
The humble, wholesome, unassuming land is as modest as the man who runs it. Kang invites guests into his ceramic show room. He encourages visitors to relax with him and share some tea, served from his handmade ceramic teapots into his elegantly crafted ceramic cups. He quietly, yet passionately, explains the unique nature of his ceramic works here in Jeju, a field Kang has had great passion for since his primary school days.
Kang Cheon-eon's special kind of pottery, known as "Gahina", features a rough surface instead of the smooth finish which is more commonly used. Photo by Arielle Ballou
Kang, and his expert team of veteran ceramic artists, use a special, traditional process to create their potteries. They bake the pieces in stone kilns, known as Dolgama. Traditional Jeju pottery is made solely from volcanic soil, and is not glazed or treated with any other chemicals. The soil is collected from several meters down into the earth and stored at cool temperatures before Kang’s staff are ready to create potteries from it. The rectangular blocks of soil are beaten and flattened by wooden tools before they are placed onto a wooden wheel; powered only by the pushing foot of the artist. After the pot is turned and beaten into shape it is taken to one of the two kilns, “Yellow Cave” and “Black Cave.” The “Yellow Cave” heats the pots at incredibly high temperatures and naturally produces red colored potteries; the “Black Cave” heats at lower temperatures producing pots slightly blackened and deeper in color. After the pots are baked, they must sit to cool in the dark for nine months before they can be taken out and used.
Kang created his own unique style and added it to this ancient pottery practice. He refers to his special hand-crafted works as Gahina- a name he coined himself, which means “forever like the beginning”. They are small cups, saucers and teapots crafted similarly to the other traditional pieces, but given finishing touches to turn their usually smooth surface, rough. Gahina pieces are also baked in the Dolgama. Kang’s rustic and unrefined Gahina pieces are a little taste of an innovative pottery that combines old traditions with his new, personal creativity.
Jeju traditional pottery was a dying art. Due to the 1960s boom in cheaply made, cheaply purchased, glazed pottery that spread to Jeju from the mainland; handmade, kiln-fired pottery seemed to dissolve back into the earth it was made from. However, thanks to Kang, it now pervades cultural experiences on Jeju. Though Kang’s pottery center was the first, today Jeju has nearly 40 other pottery houses. Kang does not fear competition from other artists: “It doesn’t matter to me if there are 30 or 300 pottery houses in Jeju; my goal was to resurrect this art, and I have achieved that goal.” However, he emphasized that his center remains the only pottery house in Jeju, to use all natural materials.
The Jeju Ceramic Pottery Center is located in Daejeong-eup in Seogwipo. Visitors can roam the gift shop, and purchase handmade pottery. They may also investigate the kilns and watch as the staff demonstrate how to make the large pots. Visitors should come prepared to hold on to memories of the experience, as taking photographs is prohibited on the grounds.
Jeju Ceramic Pottery Center can be reached by bus from the main bus terminals in Jeju City and Seogwipo. It opens 10a.m.-5p.m. and reservations need to be made in advance. For information and reservations call 064 792 0052
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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