I met an amazing traditional Korean Potter Doo-Seun Kim yesterday by pure chance. I went to the H Mart Korean grocery store to pick up a few items on Saturday and upon leaving I spotted some pottery in a large display section. Always ready to pick up some pottery and have a look: I went over.
This was not the standard mass produced pottery with faux patina produced to sell for as cheaply as possible. This was real pottery from a real potter!
I asked the gentleman at the counter if he had made the pottery and he motioned with a nod of his head that, “No, she did.” and directed me towards a large orb pot that must have weighed 75 lbs or more. I peeked around the back and Doo-Seun Kim was sitting there eating peanuts and dressed in traditional Korean garb.
I investigated some bowls, plates, mugs, jars and vases of extraordinary articulate design and many bowls and cups and functional pots with beautiful green-brown glaze.
Even though she did not speak English, she recognized my enthusiasm for pottery. I did my best to convey the universal motions for kickwheel and pulling the clay up and she smiled brightly at me.
I asked her translator if they would be there tomorrow, as I wanted to buy a piece but did not have enough money on me. Her translator said something and then Doo-Seun put the pot in my hand and directed me towards a pot of tea that was on a burner.
Thinking how special it would be that she would let me drink from one of her tea bowls, I was excited. She then continued to literally push me out the door with this bowl. Her translator was making a huge fuss in Korean but at the same time telling me that it was tradition and they were both telling me to “shhhh” about it.
It reminded me of my last memories of my late Grandmother when I was probably 4. My Mom left me with her to run an errand and as soon as she was gone my Grandmother stuffed a chocolate covered cordial cherry into my mouth and told me to, “Shhhh don’t tell your Mom”. It was the type of surprise that you just don’t forget.
I returned today to buy a pot from her and she seemed excited to see me. I brought her my best cup as a gift for the bowl that she gave me. What I made is certainly not in her league but I think that she understood what it meant that I would give it to her.
I was able to purchase some amazing pieces from her. She insisted that they are to be used as function pieces and the lidded pot that I bought from her goes right on the stove. She believes in a simple healthy lifestyle where everyone can use her products and not just looked at them for their aesthetic.
I am very excited and humbled at her generosity. It is amazing to run across such a person as her way of producing wares is the old way. She uses her own clay and glaze and wood fires it for many days. Here is a bit more about her – http://www.angelfire.com/folk/gordonscorner/sissi/GC_DooSeunKim.html & http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fblog.jackjia.com%2F%3Fp%3D251&edit-text=
“Her early works were imitation of masterpieces of ancient artists, but soon started her own style. When she was about 29, she opened her own kiln Seorabeol Pottery)in Gyeongju. Seorabeol is the ancient name of Gyeongju of ancient Silla (Unified Shilla era, 668-935 AD). The stonewares celadon was plain in color and design and was not richly glazed. Then, in Goguryeo dynasty 918-1392, Korean pottery reached the highest level. With Chinese influence, Koreans also produced the green-glazed caledon as early as the 10th century. Despite a high degree of imitation, their celadons still exhibited an appealing style of individuality and unconventionality. The inlay and copper oxide glaze techniques were perfected in Korea. However, this flourishing pottery industry declined with the Mongol invasion about 1231 AD. The delicate skills of making celadon wares were lost. In Joseon Dynasty(1392-1910, because of inadequate supply of cobalt, the production of blue-and-white Ming style porcelains were limited for the use of royals and aristocrats until 1546. In that period, the brown porcelain(Bun-Chung or folklore appeared and became the popular daily wares for all classes in Korean society.”