Tradition of Pottery Bowl Never Ending

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), October 12, 1999 | Go to article overview

Tradition of Pottery Bowl Never Ending


``Maksabal,'' the Korean pottery bowl which is used in the kitchen or for other random purposes by common Koreans has turned into a cherished houseware of tea-loving Japanese families, owing to a ceramist based in Mungyong, Kyongsang-pukto, which has thrived as a home to pottery for many centuries.

Since Korean potters were kidnapped during Hideyoshi's invasion of Choson Kingdom at the end of the 16th Century, Japan has developed its own line of local pottery primarily relying on the hands of Korean potters and their descendants. In Korea, on the contrary, the pottery disappeared in the wake of industrialization and the development of aluminum, stainless steel and synthetic containers, before the recent gradual revival of pottery as a living utensil.

Set in this background, Chun Han-bong, 68, made his name known in Japan much earlier than in Korea.

Born in Tokyo to a father who was forced to Japan for labor, he returned to Korea with his father right after the country's independence from Japan in 1945 and immediately settled down in Mungyong, the hometown of his father.

In its texture, his artworks most resembles the greyish Silla pottery with little embellishment and glazing. And he uses foot-operated spinning wheels and other traditional tools unlike his contemporaries who mostly use motor-powered and other mechanic equipment.``The genuine reproduction is possible only through this way,'' he said.

He stepped into the pottery industry after the sudden death of his father who died the year after their return to Korea. The 14-year-old boy, being the eldest son, had to support the family. At that time, potters were in short supply and they were financially well provided for though it was still looked down upon as a profession.

His seniors made him do trivial jobs and never taught him anything. He learned by closely watching them work and practiced at night while the factory was closed. Several months later, to the surprise of his seniors, he displayed the bowls he made. Chun Han-bong was put under their tutelage that very day. One day, the most skilled among them said convincingly that the boy would succeed with pottery and advised him to learn how to make glazes. Within four years, he was promoted to the status of master.

The Korean War broke out, factories closed down one by one and aluminum and, later, stainless steel replaced pottery bowls. …

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