Thursday, December 17, 2009

Onggi's allure

I can't stop looking at all things onggi - a type of pottery made by craftsmen in Korea, for food fermentation and storage. It started while reading the Jane Portal book, b/c I had found a reference to how onggi potters were often Catholics who did it to avoid persecution, hiding out in the countryside and working. I thought about Frank's research and so before I told him about it I looked online for more info and then found this fabulous article about the folk traditions and rituals surrounding onggi by Robert Sayers, who did a lot of the fieldwork on a Fulbright years ago in Korea.

Michael sent me this image he found, and then I happened upon a set of two videos showing an onggi potter at work, using a kick wheel. The first part is the beginning of the onggi, and in part two, you can see his leg working a little before 6 minutes in. But then upon further inspection, it turned out that the videos were made by Adam Field, who did a 10-month apprenticeship in Korea, about a year before I was there, learning the tradition from the national intangible heritage holder. I couldn't stop watching the videos: the glazing is my favorite, and then the firing, and of course he did a great one of himself in action.

I only stopped to cook dinner once Ben came home. Otherwise I would have watched all of them in one shot, here.

This morning, I read a NYT article on people earning a living off of Etsy and how hard it is. As if it would be easy to operate your own business, doing all production and marketing and distribution and blahhh. But even the title was funny to me, about your hobby being a lot of work. A big reason that traditional crafts are dying out, not just in Korea, but all over the world, is that they ARE all-consuming. It's always back-breaking labor (or eyeball-straining or arthritis-causing or any other kind of crippling), and it takes all of your time and energy, and you don't have much money, and you don't really get to take vacations. No one is interested in that kind of lifestyle anymore; it's too hard for us softies. But I still like to think there can be some kind of balance struck so that the people who still do the work get fully supported so that they don't have to do it and starve, or quit and survive. It kills me, watching the father do the decorations in the wet glaze with his thumbs, b/c it's so simple and deft and beautiful. I'm not saying that everyone has to give up their whole lives and bodies to keep it alive, but maybe just a bunch of people giving something, to keep that sweep of the hand moving.


elizabeth ross said...

that's a really beautiful image! and l agree with you, many wondrous craft is disappearing because the young don't want to follow, and the old, as me, found it too heavy a weight on back, hands, and purse, as l hardly sold pieces. And it happens everywhere, and it's so sad...

Frank said...

Thanks for the reference! I probably won't update that blog for a few months at least though:(