Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The World of Korean Ceramics - Available Book

This is a very quick post on the availability of the book The World of Korean Ceramics.  
I recently was able to make arrangements with the surviving author of this book Dr. Alan Covell for us to handle sales of the remaining copies of this out of print book.  Several of you have contacted me about this book but it was not yet available.  Now it is available, please contact me again if you are still interested.  I will accept orders in the order I receive them after this post.  
The book will be signed by Dr. Covell.   The price is $35.00. plus shipment from the USA.  The original price of this book at the time of its publication was $39.50.  I realize that this is slightly higher than some used copies.  However a blog based on the content of this book is being developed and will be available to those who have obtained the book from this source.  All proceeds from the sale of this book will go toward our work promoting ceramics - particularly Korean.

1. The Prehistoric World
2. The Horserider-Shamanist World
 3. The Buddhist World
4. The Confucian World
5.  The Japanese World
One may wonder why Japan is included.  This in part explains Korea's influence on Japanese pottery including chanoyu, Japanese gains in the "Pottery War" and more.
6.  The Modern World
  Each section provides very interesting and rare information in .
Included are chronological tables, kiln Illustrations and maps of Koryo kilns, partial list of musuems and major Korean collections, bibliography, and maps of porcelain and buncheong (punch'ong) kiln sites.  

The book is richly illustrated.

This is just one of the many pages of illustration found in this book.  All of these Korean chawan are in Japanese museums. In case you are interested, the text below these chawan reads:
No one individual could take *Hideyoshi, who first was hospitable to the Portuguese traders and Jesuit missionaries, as his predecessor Nobunaga had been, but by 1587 came to see that they presented a rival power, a rival loyalty, and he demanded absolute obedience from his subjects.  Kyushu had been difficult to conquer, and was not under such strong control because of its distance from his center of power (Kyoto-Osaka).  By sending troops only from the maritime provinces of Kyushu and western Japan, Hideoshi revealed his wariness of these strongly Christian areas.

Dr. Jon Covell, now deceased, was a learned scholar of both Japanese and Korean.  She was the first person to earn her doctorate in Japanese studies and lived in the Daitoku-Ji Japan for 10 years doing extensive research.  Daitoku-Ji temple houses many famous chawan.  Then she also lived in Korea for 10 years doing extensive research there as well.  There are very few who can match her linguistic skills.  Her son Dr. Alan Covell is a leading authority on Korean Shamanism and scholar on many aspects of Korean and Japanese culture. 

Again if you are interested in getting a copy of this book signed by Dr. Alan Covell, please contact me and include your shipping address and phone number.  I'll email you a PDF invoice and explain payment arrangements. 

NOTE:  This book is currently not available from me.  I will place you on a 'wish list' and work on getting more copies.

Click here to go to the next post.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

An Older Korean Buncheong Chawan

We have had very little snow in our area this winter and what snow we did have has not been big and fluffy while bending the branches with its downy whiteness so deep you can barely move.  Beautiful yes, but not being a skier, that type of snow doesn't bring me physical joy.  I'm the one who has to shovel it.  
The snow we are having reminds me of an older buncheong bowl in my personal collection.  As I said, this snow is not the snow that is all fluffy and bright - untouched and pure white, but a snow that is more ‘natural’ and touched heavily by its environment. 

The bowl is touched heavily by its environment too and takes me back to a Korea 'touched heavily' by the conditions of the times.  This bowl takes me to my  Korean grandparents and to the times they experienced prior to and during the period when this bowl was made - the years when Japan occupied Korea.
I’m speaking of my ‘gqey yl’ buncheong chawan or brushed slip chawan made in Korea during the period of the Japanese occupation – officially 1910-1945.  I use the term ‘officially’ because the Japanese were in control pf Korea for several years before 1910 - defeating both Russia and China then assassinating Queen Min1 in 1895 and in 1906 dissolving the Korean army and palace guards of which my grandfather was a ‘captain’.  Grandfather would die for Korean independence, possibly also by assassination.  But that is another story that has been told elsewhere.

 My Old Korean Buncheong ‘Gqey Yl’

Even though both China and Korea used powdered tea before the Japanese the Japanese are responsible for the elevated position Korean chawan hold in the tea world.   But, why do older and even some contemporary Korean chawan hold an elevated position in the chawan world?  A complete explanation would take many more pages than I care to write for this post.  However, historically at least, the Japanese simply couldn’t make teabowls as 'natural' as the Koreans.  Even the great Japanese Intangible Cultural Asset Hamada Shoji, under whom I studied, agreed.  He simply said, “You can’t make loose work in a tight society.”  
Perhaps that is why the Japanese, during their occupation of Korea, had Korean potters make chawan for export to Japan.  Some of those bowls remained in Korea and this is one of them.  During this discussion you may even discover why I imagine this teabowl remained in Korea.   
I obtained it a few years ago, at very little cost, from a very reputable antique gallery in Insadong, Seoul.  I have also seen similar 'occupation' chawan offered as authentic historic buncheong chawan from the “buncheong period” of Korean ceramic history - 1392-1592 by less reputable dealers in the same area of Seoul.
For a 'complete understanding' of this bowl I suppose history is important but this is not a dissertation.  I simply want to look at the bowl.  In any case some 'history' has already crept in.  
Before I begin the main discussion, I want to say a little about buncheong and gqey ylThere is considerable confusion leading occasionally to misrepresentations of buncheong by otherwise knowledgeable tea people both here and in Korea.  So I want the reader to understand this particular type of buncheong.  
What is ‘buncheong’ and what is gqey yl?  To avoid a very lengthy history lesson, buncheong, is a relatively new Korean term for a group of ancient Korean ceramic decorating processes that use mostly white slip in a number of ways under a clear glaze.  'Slip' is essentially clay in the consistency of paint due to the amount of water present.  White slip, containing porcelain clay, was primarily used.  ‘Gqey yl’ is a term used to describe buncheong when a brush is/was used  to apply the slip.  Does this explanation sound too simple, it is.  But it will have to do for this post.  Someday I’ll do a post here or on another blog explaining 'buncheong' in more depth.  But for now, let's look at this bowl.

 Click to Enlarge All Images
It measures 5.5in or 14cm wide and 2.25in or about 6cm tall.  A smaller chawan.  The form is Japanese, not Korean.  There are a number of authentic Korean chawan forms but this is not one of them.  At first glance it is a common bowl - at first glance it is not even that attractive, mostly because of the foot and unusual lip roughness.  In my opinion the foot is little too weak, and with the exception of the off centered trimming, it is also a little too tight.  

What a way to begin to describe a chawan - by pointing out what I believe to be its faults.  The bowl is a 'product of its environment' and there are other “faults”, so lets get them out of the way before I really tell you what I think about this bowl.

 While vases and bottles are formed from the exterior, bowls are formed from the interior so let's look there first.  The white slip was applied quickly with a broad but not rough brush.  A yellow stain of unknown origin mars the surface.  Next to it, we find a drop of slip.  

The origin of the yellow stain is not known.  Most likely the drop of slip is the result of dipping the rim of the bowl very gently and carefully into the bowl of slip, after brushing, just to be certain the rim of the bowl was covered.  This extra dipping of the lip accounts for the unusual drip markings across and around much of the rim.  These markings are unusual and probably undesirable by a Japanese chawan connoisseur even 100 years ago.
Turning again to the interior of the bowl we are confronted with a number of interesting 'events'.

I first notice the contrasting color of the center circle with the rest of the bowl.  This is caused I believe by captured 'reduction' or lack of oxygen in the 'foot well' under the bowl.  Some Korean chawan styles, and many chawan from Hagi, Japan2 call for a notch in the foot to allow oxygen into this area thus preventing this type of color change.  Next, we see three 'wad' marks where small wads of clay were used so that another similar bowl could be stacked inside this one during the firing3.  A true chawan connoisseur would say these wad marks are too large.  You might also notice two other 'events'.  First, the tiny bare clay spot nearly in the center of the bottom where a piece of slip in drying did not adhere properly and came off sometime after firing.  Second, another drip of white slip; this time the slip had more water content and splashed flat just off the upper left center bottom.  It was just thick enough to cover a sliver of the captured reduction.  One can not leave the interior of this chawan without commenting on the slight glaze crawl and slight green tint to the transparent glaze where, for a number of possible reasons, the glaze application was a little thicker.  Overall the glaze is applied very thinly.  Each of these events adds immeasurably to the story of this chawan.

Let's take another look at the foot.  Earlier I said it was a little too weak.  But this photo doesn't suggest that.  That is because the foot is inconsistent being straight on one side and concave on the other.  When holding this bowl in my hands the foot is a little too weak.  Again, due to the above camera angle the image shows the foot as being slightly convex when in reality it is ranges from slightly concave to straight. (below)

The artist used a gubsuay-kal or 'left bent' knife made by hand from a flat strap of thin metal especially to trim the foot quickly.  Tools of this type are 'must have' if you are serious about creating chawan.  The foot ring is trimmed part way down the side of the bowl.  In this case, it is trimmed to the area the artist decided to cover with slip.  It is not unusual for an Asian ceramic artist to trim more than a Western ceramic artist.  In Asia, trimming is simply another forming process.  I have seen highly skilled Korean and Japanese masters trim their bowls from the bottom of the foot to nearly the edge of the lip to get a desired form.  The clay body contains particles of both mountain sand and stone.  Mountain sand is 'toothy',  It is not like river bottom sand that is rounded by the water and acts like minuscule ball bearings during the forming process.  No 'grog' i.e. pre-fired and pulverized bisque clay is used because, "Grog is dead clay and absorbs water" (again Hamada). 

A closer look at the foot and edge of the slip reveals both the stone in the clay body and the 'drier' consistency of the slip when it was applied.
I suppose it is time to discuss what I really feel about this bowl rather than what I see in this bowl.  Have you ever picked up a pebble that you liked more than a diamond?  Have you ever thought that old coins were more attractive than new coins?  Have you ever met a person who on initial meeting wasn't attractive but became so after you got to know them?  This bowl is like that.  I don't know if I have ever been so 'critical' of a bowl that I really like.  In spite of its flaws or perhaps because of them this bowl has presence but it is not boisterous.  Simple, naive, un-agitated, the bowl is here to serve.  What more should we ask of a chawan?  
Addendum: Alas!
Well that is what I said in February 2012 when I wrote this.  Since that time, I’ve been thinking about this bowl from time to time.  One thing has been bothering me.  It is not necessarily bothering me about the aesthetic qualities of the bowl but rather its real history.  Above I wrote, “The artist used a gubsuay-kal or 'left bent' knife made by hand from a flat strap of thin metal especially to trim the foot quickly.”  It absolutely was trimmed by a metal gubsuay-kal.  But before metal kals, bamboo gubsuay kals were used.  That issue continued to ‘eat at me’.  So the last time I was in Korea, I met with my friend Cheon Han Bong.  Cheon Han Bong, an Intangible Living Treasure, was one of the artists who reestablished teabowls in Korea.  My question was simple. “When did ceramic artists start using metal gubsuay kals in Korea?”  I expected to hear him answer, “Many years ago.” or “Around 1930.” or even 1940.  But he simply said, “Around 1970.”  1970!  That means this bowl is not a bowl made during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the first half of the last century.  That means the gallery where I purchased it and another gallery where I saw a similar piece authenticated on paper that their bowl was from the occupation period were wrong.  The second gallery was committing fraud.  It is a good thing  didn’t pay much for this piece considering the price of chawan.  I still ‘like’ or as delineated above 'dislike' the bowl but for different reasons. 
When I started this blog, I said it was an “Interior and Exterior Journey”.  This experience in particular has been an 'interior' one.  The journey continues. 

Click here to go to the next post.
1 Queen Min is also known as Empress Myeongseong 
2 Hagi is a Japanese pottery village founded by Korean ceramic artists during or just after the Imjin War.
3 Potters of this period in Asia did not use kiln shelves so several teabowls were stacked inside each other separated only by specially prepared wads consisting mostly of refractory clay and usually some organic matter like rice flour or sawdust.  Many contemporary recipes for these wads can be found online.