Friday, January 31, 2014

The Family

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Although we had met Park Jong Il some years before and even sponsored his visit to America we first met his family in their home in 2005.  Their daughter had just been born and their home, studio and kiln sat alone nearly at the top of the mountain.
When I began writing about Park Jong Il, I simply thought that you might be interested in the addition of his tea gallery and how he built it.  Then I remembered that he had some interesting ways he handled water for tea – particularly his tea tower.  That led to posts on tea sets, tea cups and tea bowls and my most recent post on his kiln. These were not pre-conceived posts but just seemed to flow one into the other.  Somewhere along this process it was obvious that I was presenting a rather full picture of a tea ware artist and what it takes to provide the hand formed tea ware we use everyday.
Two things were missing: the forming process and his family. When we visit Park Jong Il he is busy presenting tea and is seldom creating work.  

He always greets us with a ready smile.

This photo of him trimming the foot on one of his tea bowls is our single forming photo. 

Trimming is as important to the forming process for most Korean ceramic works as ‘turning’ or ‘throwing’. To a chawan connoisseur each part of the bowl is very important - the line of the form, the depth of the bowl, the quality and color of the glaze, but perhaps none more so than the foot.
The very best bowls can command great prices but in spite of the stories of simple tea bowls demanding great sums, clearly the motivation is not great wealth. While that is possible for a few tea ware artists, it is not the case with the hundreds if not thousands of tea ware artists who live very simple lives just so we, who consume tea, can enjoy a cup of tea while holding one of their cups in our hand.
Even those tea ware artists who have achieved considerable fame and financial fortune did not begin with a financial motivation. For the vast majority, the motivation to create tea ware is not wealth in monetary terms - but it may be wealth in more spiritual terms. There is something compelling and spiritual about the combination of the physical, psychological and philosophical aspects of ones being that must come together to create Tea ware. That combination inspires one to work, and dedicate ones life to it.
More rare is he/she who has a companion who understands that motivation and with whom he/she can share that experience. Park Jong Il has such a companion in his wife Shin In-suk*. 

Shin In-suk is herself an artist with considerable talent. Her drawings, paintings and occasional sculpture sometimes whimsical, like many Korean artists before her, often capture poetic life moments. 

Shin In-suk designs and sews most of Jong Il’s clothing - as seen in the photos of Jong Il serving tea above.  She is a superb chef*, a wonderful and loving mother and supports her husband in many other ways.
Their daughter Park Seo-Ryeon is growing in the footsteps of her parents showing early signs of considerable artistic skill. 

This is Seo-Ryeon's work at the Western ages of 3 and 5.  It is obvious that the gift of artistic ability did not pass her.

Presenting this tea ware artist and the family has been more than a pleasure. From the humble building of his tea gallery and home to his work, kiln and family we have been able to look a little closer than usual at what it takes to bring us a hand formed cup, bowl or tea pot for our daily tea.
Contact us if you are interested in obtaining his work or would simply like to taste one of his favorite teas.

One thing is becoming very clear to me.   I need to get new images of Seo-Ryeon's work.  She is growing up very fast.


*Korean wives most often keep their family name.
*Shin In-suk prepared a feast for our group during our visit in October 2009 that was the best meal we had during the tour.

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Jong Il's Gama - The Kiln

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If you have never sat alone firing a wood kiln on a cool night when the wind is still and the only light comes from the flame, heating - almost burning - your face, you have never experienced the most spiritual moments of being with clay.  There is nothing like it.  The river of flame flowing through the ware, touching the surfaces with both heat and ash, perhaps gentle at first and for some never gentle.  For others, a fierce flame dancing, darting not kissing but more like passionately embracing the ware - fire is.

Park Jong Il's kiln is an orumgama - a chambered climbing kiln - just large enough for one person, with occasional help, to manage during the thirty hours needed to reach 1260C  (2300F) for the glaze firing.

Of course the wood must be cut well ahead of time.
If you were to visit these mountains  in the early 1980's, just thirty years ago, they would be nearly bare as all of the trees were cut and shipped to Japan during the Japanese occupation.  Today there is new growth and wood is plentiful.  Still potters today scrounge for any scrap wood they can find to use in their firing especially during the early heating or candling stages.  Look closely and you can see the ax used to split the logs.  Chopping wood is a long and laborious task.
Black and red pine are used.  Pine in Asia is not a soft wood like in the United States it is a hard wood and the preferred wood for firing. 

The firebox is long and set below ground.  During the glaze firing it is fired for 20 hours.

After the fire box has heated the kiln the chambers are fired for approximately 3 hours each to reach the final glaze temperature.  No cones are used to determine the proper glaze melting temperature.  That determination is made by eye.  The color of the heat and the use of a metal rod that allows one to watch the fire shadow on the ware are the main methods used.  In addition small tea cups are placed near the peep hole.  When the glaze melts on these cups, the potter is assured that the proper temperature has been reached.  I have seen other potters roll small coils of glaze that are dried and placed in wads of clay to help determine the glaze melting point.  Others place rings of clay dipped into glaze into the kiln.  These are drawn out with a metal rod to determine if the glaze temperature has been reached.
Prior to the glaze firing there is a bisque firing in the same kiln.  The firebox is fired for 5-6 hours and each chamber is fire 1 or 2 hours to reach 800C (1472F) for stoneware or 900C (1652F) for a porcelain bisque.

Remember that Park Jong Il lives high in the mountains.  His Kiln is 500 meter above sea level and slopes at an 18˚ angle.  Most Korean kilns slope at a 16˚ angle.  The slightly steeper slope helps Jong Il reach temperature more easily.

Jong Il demonstrates the construction of the arch in this ancient style kiln.  It is a mangdaengi  "망댕이 가마".  So named because of the type of brick used in the construction of the dome. 
This type of kiln predates the Imjin War with Japan and would have been in use by many potters during that historic period.  It is known as a noborigama in Japan.  The nobori went to Japan from Korea.

 This photo is of a similar kiln being repaired.   It is the oldest kiln in operation in Korea.
To learn more about this other amazing mangdaengi kiln and the important ceramic family that owns it, visit my other blog

The interior arch of Park Jong Il's mangdaengi orumgama.

The interior dome of the mangdaengi.

The interior of one of the chambers.  Note, traditionally no shelves were used in these kilns.  That is why tea bowls were stacked inside each other.

Recently Park Jong Il built a second kiln.  It is also an orumgama but is made of commercial brick.  As you can see from this photo both kilns were covered with a castable refractory coating to provide extra insulation and more protection from the weather.


I can't leave this post without showing you the interior of the new kiln.  This is the fire box.  Compare Jong Il's two fire boxes with the old mangdaengi kiln in Mungyeong. 

The interior of Jong Il's new kiln showing the dome of the orumgama.  
The look of the older mangdaengi gama is rather romanic and rustic, appealing to our aesthetic senses, but protecting the kilns is important.  On a recent phone conversation with Park Jong Il he told me that he had about 50 cm of snow.
This blog on our friend Park Jong Il is an outgrowth from our blog.  Park Jong Il has reached a level of international appreciation that he  deserves his own blog in English.
I hope that this blog on Park Jong Il is interesting as much  to those of you who are ceramic artists as to those of you who are tea connoisseurs.  We should share similar interests.  A more in depth look at a tea ware artist such as this may help those who drink tea identify more with what it takes to make that small cup or teapot you are using.  
We began Morning Crane Tea for that purpose.  Our blog posts are not just about tea or teaware but provide considerable information on Korean tea and links to other sources.  Another great source for information on Korean tea is Matt Cha's blog.  You may have to search through his earlier posts to find the posts on Korean teas but it is worth the search and all his posts are interesting.
Before I leave Park Jong Il's kiln, you should know that before each firing, Jong Il places a small cup above the opening of the fire box.  In it is some tea, soju or even makgeolli.  It is an offering to the gods of the kiln for a good firing.  Many potters also bathe before the firing.  It is a way of preparing oneself to be properly attentive and to consider the firing event an occasion worthy of one being at their best. 
In the West we become disappointed if we lose a pot or two because of a cracked foot or the glaze didn't develop properly.  In Korea it is not uncommon for a potter to lose between 40% and 70% of their work.  The percentage of loss is even higher for celadon.
I remember a TV program on a tea bowl artist I saw in Korea.  The program followed a potter and his son as they worked for several weeks preparing the wood and creating the ware.  Then they loaded and fired the kiln.  The firing was a total disaster.  The final scene was their breaking every piece in that firing because nothing was acceptable.  This experience did not deter those potters but gave them greater resolve to continue in their work - a quest for a better chawan.
To many who drink tea, tea cups, tea pots and tea bowls are just containers for tea.  To a Tea ware artist, they are a way of life.  It is also true that to many ceramic artists, tea is just a drink, but to Tea connoisseurs Tea is also a way of life.  My hope is that these blogs will in some small way bring our two worlds closer together.

Handling Water

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  The way a tea ware artist decides to handle water is an important part of their production.  Park jong Il uses several systems.

This water tray is usually used for tea cups ch'at-chan and the serving of infused tea.  It is a simple servant, unglazed except for the fly ash that might settle on it during the firing.  It is composed of two parts the 'bowl' that they call da-hae or 'tea sea' often referred to in English  as an 'ocean' and the da-sun or 'tea boat'.  Traditionally with unglazed teapots one not only washes the cups on the da-sun but also pours hot water over the unglazed teapot during the brewing process and the excess water collects in the da-hae.  The teapot ch'akwan or ch'at-chonja is unglazed except for the fly ash as well. 

   Park's da-hae system is simple and direct.  The teapot and tea cups are accompanied with a tea cooling bowl mulshikim sabal, a stand for the lid of the tea pot and a tea scoop or chasi.  Most often tea scoops are made from bamboo.  We seldom find a tea ware artist that makes his own tea scoops.  I first mistook his ceramic tea scoop for a tong rest.  Tongs are used to pick up teacups for washing and heating.

  A  third water system is a 'water tray' also known as a gee myun da-hae here seen with a teapot and cups, a tea caddy, hot water ewer, cooling pitcher and small brazier.
Each piece is natural, humble and a true servant to tea.

   I have not seen any other potter use a tall water tower that is a version of a da-hae like Jong Il's.  It is called a kkokkiri da-sun or trunk/nose da-sun.   Usually placed in a bowl it is is used both for washing a number of bowls and a number of cups stacked inside each other.  The hot water on the cups heats them, a common practice.

 Park Jong Il's work is particularly prized by Seon Zen monks and tea masters who look for the natural.
   Many Korean artists believe that tea ware should be simple because in essence the purpose of tea ware is to serve.  They should have personality but not be too proud or boisterous.  They should invoke a quiet sensitive state of mind.  The tea ware should not overpower the tea.  The work should be natural because all the contrivances we can come up with to “enhance” tea ware pale in comparison to what happens naturally in a simple wood or even gas firing.  It is easy to create flamboyant, whimsical or outlandish work we call tea ware.  Far more difficult is creating tea wares that truly serve.
   More importantly, Park Jong Il's work is directly connected to his life.  In part that is why I selected Park Jong Il to introduce first.  The life and work of a good Korean potter are one.  In a previous post I quoted Hamada and it seems appropriate to do it once more.  Hamada Shoji said, “I think there are hardly any pots in the world through which a people’s life breathes more directly as Korean ones, especially Yi Dynasty wares.”(1)  It is clear that Park Jong Il embodies that same spirit.
 (1) From Hamada Potter by Bernard Leach. 

Park Jong Il's Ch’at gi and Ch'akwan

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Park Jong I'ls ch'at gi or tea sets like all of his work are very Korean.  Usually simple, always functional.  They are both elegant and earthy.
This tea set above includes from the left tea cups ch'at chan a small serving dish, tea pot ch'akwan or ch'at chonja with side typical Korean side handle a cooling bowl mulchikim sabal or kwityaekurut stand for tea pot lid, water discard bowl kaesukurut on which a ceramic tea scoop ch'asi sits with tea caddy ch'aho. The tea caddy is not used for storage but for serving or ceremony.  Tea scoops are most often made of bamboo. Finally a small heater and pouring bowl.

This porcelain set includes-from the left- a tea caddy, a small flower vase, two cups with stands, a tea pot with the typical Korean side handle, a cooling bowl  (behind), a water pitcher for transferring water, a stand for the tea pot lid and a water discard bowl.  I'm sorry that I don't yet know all the terms in Korean.

This tea set grouping is less elaborate but includes a small tall handled tea pot, cooling bowl (that is particularly important for green tea), a stand for the teapot lid and two cups with stands.  Most Korean tea pots for infusing tea are small and are used for multiple infusings during the sitting.  

You have seen other examples of Park Jong Il's tea pots in earlier postings.  This moderately sized tea pot ch'akwan or ch'at chonja is a classic Jong Il. Simple in form, the spout is perfectly placed with the opening at water level.  The tall arching handle was formed as a ring on the wheel cut and placed on the vessel.  A whimsical figure sits as the handle for the lid.   

This teapot is unglazed with subtle wood ash flashing and back handle.

A little whimsy doesn't hurt this small teapot with wood ash flashing.
Park Jong I'ls work, for the most part, is not flashy but simple, natural and functional work.  They are made to serve.  I really enjoy seeing Park Jong Il's tea pots and pouring vessels and am impessed by their subtle variety when viewed as a group.

As stated earlier, Park Jong Il's work is related to his life, simple, direct, honest and natural -  humble and un-adulterated.  Perhaps there are some who will find Jong Il's work too plain or boring.  But each piece is born from a natural approach to living and is created effortlessly as he peacefully sits at his wheel.  In Seon (Zen) there is a saying that at the end of the road lies effortless peace.  What more can be desired? 

Park Jong Il’s Chatchan and Chawan

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For a tea ware artist to create truly significant work, they must know Tea. Does the one who drinks tea in a serious manner have the responsibility to know and understand tea ware?
When I sell my work in Asia, I have had the opportunity to talk with the customers directly. On my first encounters, now some years ago, I was surprised at their knowledge of the ceramic process as opposed to Western customers who more commonly simply bought what they liked and asked few questions. The Asian customers ask questions, “Is this wood fired or gas fired? What temperature do you fire at? Is that natural mountain stone in the clay body? Even, “How many times have you drunk matcha?” The latter question was a test to determine if I really understood Tea. But in the West, I very seldom get questions like that but have been asked if it the work was dishwasher safe.
I created this blog for selfish reasons, one can never know enough about Tea and writing about it helps. In addition looking carefully at someone else’s work, work you respect,  serves to educate us all.
Park Jong Il’s ‘chatchan’ teacups and ‘chawan’ tea bowls are the foundation of his work – of any tea ware artist’s work..
Jong Il’s are all simple functional ware and rely on “outer powers” for many of the effects achieved. The clay body, glaze, kiln, even wheel and other things have as much to do with the work as he does. For me, that is one of the signs of a good tea ware artist. They are one with nature and use nature in their work.
I will begin with some of his teacups. For many reasons, teacups do not receive the same respect as tea bowls. First, they are small. Second, they are usually not expensive. Third, Korea’s who drink tea use chatchan every day as common ware. Fourth, there is a mystery surrounding tea bowls that has elevated their status beyond imagination. A simple Korean or Japanese chawan made today by a known artist may be sold for thousands of dollars. Even an unknown tea ware artist may receive hundreds or even thousands of dollars if the look is right. While a teacup made by the same artist with few exceptions remains reasonably priced. The time and effort to create a chatchan or a chawan are similar. For an experienced tea ware artist it takes just seconds more to form a chawan. It is no wonder that some tea ware artists have decided to only make chawan. But the reason for this is not only financial. This issue is explored more fully on my blog
Park Jong Il is a complete tea ware artist. As you are seeing, he produces a full line of tea ware. I will be showing a greater selection of his chatchan in a later blog. You have seen his porcelain and in doing so have discovered that he uses more than one clay body. Many ceramic artists use just one clay body. Park Jong Il uses many clay bodies as each clay body contributes to the final result.

Jong Il's chatchan are beautiful.  The four cups to the right measure approximately 2” x 3” or 5 cm x 7.5 cm.  The left one is slightly smaller.  All have a similar clay body that is rich in iron.  Brown is one of the preferred colors for matcha but these are for infused tea that looks good with many colors even clear glass – an admission difficult for a potter to make.
The cup to the left is glazed with a simple glaze revealing the dark body.  At first glance one might think that the four cups to the right are all glazed the same but on closer examination there are two sets.  All four are tum bung buncheong or dipped into slip buncheong* but both the slips and glazes are slightly different.  You might ask why an artist would take the time to use different slips and glazes to create similar results.  The answer is in the word ‘artist’.  Artists see beyond “first glance”.  The more we look at these two sets of chatchan the more different they become – beautiful.  Aesthetically chatchan follow similar principals as chawan.  In essence they are chawan in miniature and should be enjoyed in the same manner.  Such a phenomenon can be found in the prices of small saki cups in Japan that can match the prices of chawan.

Jong Il’s chawan are simple and spiritual, reflecting the man and his approach to Tea and tea ware.  This bowl is quite deep, even deeper than an ‘ido’ bowl and fits the hand beautifully.  It is glazed with a simple “dry” glaze composed of feldspar and ashes.  Nearly any combination of these two ingredients 'works". 
On occasion tiny natural stones in the clay body interrupt the ‘sharkskin’ surface and gently influenced the rim.  The bowl is quiet and humble and a great color for matcha.

But matcha looks great with a variety of tones of several colors so it becomes a matter of taste, personality and mood as to which chawan one selects for their bowl for a particular event.  It is like selecting which tea to drink that morning with which teacup, or which teapot should be used with which tea?  So a collector of chawan, who is truly into Tea, and enjoys matcha, will have many tea bowls in their collection and may pay considerable sums for them.  Korea’s Human National Treasure in pottery, Kim Jong Ok,  receives as much as the equivalent of $7000 USD for a single bowl.  I know others who have received even more.  But most artists, including Park Jong Il, have much more modest prices.
The above bowl is glazed with an unusual slip glaze on an iron rich clay body.  Again, Park Jong Il uses several clay bodies as each has its own voice in the final result.  This piece is more heavily reduced than the first and iron is pulled from the glaze and clay body creating a very different result.  This bowl is masculine, the previous bowl more feminine.  Both were quickly formed.  Yet both chawan maintain a quiet, strong presence and reflect the personality of the same maker.

I call this a gama sabal or 'kiln' bowl.  So called because the kiln had as much to do with this tea bowl as the potter.  It captures the perfect balance between the inner and outer powers necessary to achieve quality chawan.  If this bowl were glazed with a ‘shino’ glaze, the Japanese would call it “rat shino” because of the color change caused simply by the change of gray reduction to white oxidation on the same piece. The term ‘reduction’ refers to the reduction of oxygen during the firing.  When oxygen in needed, and not present, oxygen is ‘pulled’ from the oxides in the glaze and clay body causing them to change color.  This is the same effect that’s necessary to produce copper reds and celadon chungja glazes*.   But surprise, this bowl is glazed with the same slip and glaze as two of the chatchan above and is ‘tum bung buncheong’*.  It was dipped into a thin clay slip tum bung over a darker clay body. 
In the beautiful chawan above, you can almost see the reduction smoke and flames swirling around, now frozen in that perfect moment.

This ‘gqey yl’ or brushed slip ‘buncheong’ or gqey yl buncheong piece is simply beautiful and is decorated using one of the old ‘buncheong’ methods for decorating with white slip.  Slip in this case was applied with a rough brush.  The slip was applied without hesitation – direct and in one movement.  The ‘line’ of this bowl also reflects the quickness of forming – both turning or throwing and trimming on a wheel.  In Korea, trimming is as important to the forming process as turning.
The interior, revealed here with some remaining matcha, shows the uneven reduction often prized by tea ware connoisseurs.  This bowl “moves in its stillness” and is a good example of Jong Il’s work.
I’m sorry that I don’t have photos of all sides of these chawan including the bottom of the foot.  The latter two photos were taken in Jong Il’s Tea/gallery while the first two photo are from his collection. 
My next posting on Park Jong Il will be on his kiln followed by his family. 
*‘Buncheong’ powder, is a relatively new term for a group of slip decorating processes used in Korea between 1392 and approximately 1592.  The use of these methods had already been slowly dying in favor of porcelain when Hideyoshi’s samurai warriors invaded Korea during the Imjin War (1592-1596) insuring the demise of these ‘buncheong’ processes.  Approximately 70,000 prisoners were taken to Japan as captives. These included artisans of many kinds, men, women, and children.  Included were hundreds of Korea’s most important literati.  Included also were approximately 2000 ceramic artists.  The war is nicknamed the Pottery War by some scholars.  Captive Korean potters began many of Japan’s now famous pottery villages.  One prominent expert on both Korean and Japanese arts and culture told me that if we were to remove all the Korean influences from Japanese ceramics, it would be like removing all African American musicians from the Jazz Hall of Fame.
The Japanese call the various Korean buncheong processes mishima and have identified more than 20 different types. 
*The “secret color” of celadon is achieved by the use of iron in the clay body and/or glaze and the proper amount of reduction during the firing.  In celadon the oxidation would have been yellow while the perfect reduction becomes “kingfisher blue” cheongja or what we know as “celadon”.  Over-reduced the celadon turns gray.  During the 1300’s Chinese scholars declared that one of the finest things under heaver was Korean celadon – everything else was Chinese.  To learn more about celadon check the website  
As for Korea’s use of copper red; Korea used copper red on pottery two hundred years before China.  Koreans have been masters of reduction firing since the bronze age. 
*I have changed my spelling for powdered tea from "matcha" to "maccha".  While both spellings are used on a regular basis by different authors, "maccha" is the preferred spelling by the Japanese and it is presumed at this time to be a Japanese word. Ref:  What word do the Chinese use for powdered tea?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Park Jong Il's Home and Tea Gallery

The View From Park Jong Il's Home and Tea Gallery

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There is an old Korean saying, “Behind every mountain is another mountain.”  The mountains of Korea are magnificent so it is no wonder that many temples are built there,  In the mountains one is close to nature and nature and the natural are at the core of Korean aesthetics and philosophy.
Park Jong Il, a very spiritual tea ware artist, selected a spot near the top of a mountain to build his home and tea gallery.  His home and tea gallery were built by hand from raw clay and naturally hewn trees in the same manner that many ancient Korean potters built their homes and studios. 
Being a tea ware artist has many facets and Park Jong Il is more complex than many.  With this blog we hope to go more into depth with his life and work to help you gain greater appreciation of what it takes to be and artist for tea. Join us as we learn more about Park Jong Il and his work.

Tea Gallery Exterior Under Construction

Tea Gallery Interior Under Construction

The Exterior After Completion

  The interior after completion

It is fitting and particularly interesting to a tea lover that the clay to build the walls of this tea gallery came from the historic tea mountains of Jirisan near Hadong.  It is the same source of clay for many old tea bowls. Trees from the mountains were hewn to support the tea gallery. They contribute to the feeling of being close to nature while in the gallery.  
Jong Il is brilliant yet remains a simple, spiritual and sensitive potter living high in the mountains.  While there are many tea ware artists in Korea, only a few have reached the level of financial success necessary to permit them to do everything they would like to do to their home or gallery.  While a thatch roof would be very attractive and aesthetically compelling to have, they also demand considerable upkeep and can actually cause health problems.  Jong Il would like to use handmade roof tiles but the labor and expense in currently prohibitive.  In addition the art of creating tiled roofs by hand seems to be dying in Korea.  As far as we can determine the only authentic person in Korea who made roof tiles by hand was the human cultural treasure Han Hyun Jun who lived in Jangheung, Chollanamdo.  Master Han recently passed away shortly after consulting on the reconstruction of the tiled roof of Namdaemun Seoul's South Gate that was destroyed by fire.  I am sure others know how but he was the last of the authentic lineage.  We my be posting about our friend Han Hyun Jun in a memorial blog.  Watch for it.  
So, in other words, Park Jong Il's roofs currently are composed of some contemporary materials that are visible in the following images.  Who knows what the future will bring?

Another View of the Tea Gallery

I decided to also post two images of the Park home built in the same manner.  The first shows the chimney for their ondol heating system and the second a onggi pot made in Ulsan at the Oe-gosan Onggi Village.  You can see and learn more about onggi at one of our other blogs.

Park Jong Il's Home Showing Chimney

Park Jomg Il's Home with Ulsan Onggi

I know that you have been wondering what his work looks like.  So I'll be posting several pieces.  The first two images show his solution to "water and fire".

These water pots look a lot like Western teapots but combined with their "fire bowls" they are used simply to heat the water for tea.  Jong Il has several solutions for handling the water for tea.  I'll show them in the next addition to this post.
Contact us if you would like to learn how you can purchase a cup, teapot or other teaware by Park Jong Il or would simply like to try one of his favorite teas.