At celadon fest, rhapsody in blue
The majority of Goryeo Dynasty celadon was made in Gangjin, a seaside community in South Jeolla. Today, the area hosts an annual festival aimed at introducing visitors to the delicate blue-green pottery for which Korea is now famous.
The 39th Gangjin Celadon Festival features an exhibition, an auction and opportunities to make your own pottery as well as performances of traditional Korean music and dance. The festival has been named the best in Korea every year since 2002 by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, and this year the ministry has designated it a national festival.
Gangjin, which was once located in the southern part of Goryeo (918-1392), was famous for its celdon production, and 188 of the nation’s 400 kilns are found there. Located near the southern coast, the city was also a convenient location for exporting celadon to other nations.
Goryeo celadon is known for its unique hues and a special inlay method called sanggam, both of which eventually came to distinguish Korean celadon from its Chinese and Japanese counterparts. In the sanggam technique, designs are engraved onto the pottery and the space is then filled with black or white clay, instead of printing the patterns on the surface of the porcelain. That makes the designs more prominent in contrast to the color of the porcelain.
Celadon is made by firing a piece of pottery for several days at 900 degrees Celsius (1652 degrees Fahrenheit). The piece is then glazed and fired again at more than 1,300 degrees Celsius for several more days to get the right color. Since there were no thermometers in the Goryeo period, it was hard to distribute the heat evenly to all of the pieces in the kiln, so only 20 percent of them would come out with the right color.
Nowadays, the pieces are fired with gas for the even distribution of heat. But potters attempting to make celadon using the traditional firing method still only see 70 percent of their pottery come out of the kiln looking the way they want it to.
For a look at finished celadon, head to “Goryeo Celadon, Returned to Gangjin.” The exhibition displays celadon originally made in Gangjin on loan from museums all over the nation. It runs until Sept. 30 at the Gangjin Celadon Museum, which is on the festival site. Included among the 52 pieces on display is a bottle printed with plum blossom flowers that is on loan from Seoul’s Horim Museum. Also on display are six pieces from Japan.
Buying one of these pieces could easily empty your pockets and then some, but visitors to the festival will have a chance to purchase celadon at a discount through a public auction. The auction is on Saturday and the initial asking price will be 50 percent off of the original price.
During the festival, visitors can also try carving their own print using sanggam inlay. Visitors carve their design onto a cup, dish or water jug and the finished piece will be delivered to your home address. The smallest cup costs 7,000 won ($6.65) and water jugs are around 22,000 won.
After the festival, a tour of the Gangjin area is also worthwhile. Gangjin is home to many historic Korean sites, including the home of Joseon-era scholar Dasan, or Jeong Yak-yong (1762-1836). He was exiled to Gangjin from Hanyang (present-day Seoul) from 1801 to 1818 based on the suspicion that he was the leader of a Christian movement. While in exile, Dasan studied silhak, or practical learning, and wrote more than 600 books. His home, also known as Dasan Chodang, is located on Mount Manduk. From there, he could look over to Heuksando, the home of his brother Jeong Yak-jeon, who was also in exile.
*The Gangjin Celadon Festival runs until Aug. 7 in Gangjin, South Jeolla. To get to Gangjin, take a bus to Gangjin Express Bus Terminal. From there, a free shuttle bus goes to the festival grounds every hour. Admission is 7,000 won. Call 1688-1305, or go to www.gangjinfes.or.kr.
By Lee Sun-min [email@example.com]
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