Once you enter the world of clay, there is a natural drag that any potter feels towards East Asia. So many deep rooted philosophies that you can’t help but be intrigued by. From the way they treat the material to the respect they carry for the craft through all these years. And I was no different. Catering to my wanderlust, and wanting to experience their way first-hand I decided to go to South Korea. Located in a crafts village between the hills in South Korea’s hub for ceramics; Icheon, lies Toroo Studio ran by Master Potter Kwak Kyung Tae. He teaches the lost art of Onggi technique, a method unique in the world of coil building large pots and forms. Traditionally born out of necessity in Korea.
Waking up to this view, surrounded by studios working in clay
My time there was divided into two parts, first learning the traditional Korean way of wheel throwing off the hump and then the Onggi technique. We started with breaking down each step of making the Korean tea bowl ‘sabal’ from hand gestures at each point to wheel speed and repeated practise. Learning the significance of form with function and culture. Watching the Master throw makes you realise the amount of discipline and persistence it takes to master a form.
Onggi a term for Korean earthenware “breathing pottery” holds a deep cultural value. These storage jars are used for fermenting, which most of the Korean cuisine is based out of, signifying their history and values till date. It’s basically made using a coiling technique ‘Thariyamgil’ followed by paddling ‘Surehgil’. A completely different way of making from wheel throwing. It involves many different traditional wooden tools and ways to approach the clay.
My entire experience there was so much more apart from learning the techniques. Every new place that you go to has so much to offer if one is open to new experiences. Korea has grown to have a very special spot in me, through its warm and welcoming culture that I felt even through all the language barrier one faces there. I was surrounded by kind and helpful vibrations throughout, and such delicious food and hospitality. Grateful for the dedicated mentorship by Kwak Kyung Tae and the warmth of the entire Torro Studio family.