I live surrounded by beautiful mountains in Woodstock, NY. Legend has it that it’s a land of fairies and mountain spirits. I moved to this mountain area 16 years ago from Brooklyn, NY, where I lived for 20 years. This area reminds me of my home in South Korea, where I was born and raised until I was a young teen.
I grew up with many children who lost their parents during the Korean War. My parents took care of them until they got old enough to be on their own. There were always flowers, music, lots of laughter, Kimchi making, pigs, goats for milk, chicken and story times (instead of books). Schools were built, churches were built, ladies who lost their husbands took refuge and became cooks and caretakers of children.
“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”
In the springtime, the mountains turned pink from wild azaleas. We played endless hours of made-up games with stones and earth. In autumn, more than fifty ceramic Onggi pots were filled with Kimchi, miso and soy sauce and buried in the earth with an opening for use during the winter months.
My parents let the farmers farm the land given to the new orphanage by the government and the farmers shared its bounty with us. People lost a lot during the war and a sudden wall divided the country in half (South and North Korea). But people cared deeply for each other after the war…like my parents!
It was not a luxurious time, but we grew up feeling abundant and well cared for growing up in this little heaven of a place my parents created. In 1974, after most of the war-orphaned children grew up, my parents decided to emigrate to America. The U.S. opened immigration to few countries, South Korea being one. Like most immigrant families, promises of the American dream and a magical future for their three children enticed my parents to take a giant leap of faith and they emigrated to the U.S.
Art became my refuge and new language during this time and throughout my life in this new country. Creativity, playing and creating has always been big part of my life. My maternal grandmother braided my long hair every morning when I was growing up. And she asked me to choose my own clothing for each day: dresses, pants, shirt, socks, hair band, etc. Even with the few choices I had at the time, putting together my outfit for the day, thinking and coordinating was always fun in my memory—the beginnings of my creative process if you will. My mother always said I did that better then she could have done, in color coordination and looks.
I also enjoyed painting with oil sticks and drawing, filling up white pages with bright colors. I played the piano and trained in traditional dance with a dedicated dance teacher for years. Best of all, my grandmother’s love and her creative way of being helped me blossom on my own.
When immigrating to new country with very little language, art played a big part in adjusting to my new life in a new place as a young teen. I went on to study painting, graduating with a BFA from prestigious Cooper Union. My art journey continued in other mediums with much passion.
I explored the abundance of museums in NYC joyfully. My favorite activities were going to experience art in many venues throughout the city and experiencing the different ethnic foods offered throughout NYC.
I have always thought of myself as a painter. My interests were two dimensional; color and form on a canvas. While raising my son, I took a local pottery class for fun and really enjoyed the tactile quality of the clay. A few years later, I had another chance opportunity with clay on the pottery wheel. This time, I felt so drawn to the process, like my body depended on it to quench that thirst, and I took the “pull” seriously.
I delved deep into learning all I could about working with clay. Clay is like that, it calls you. It calls you back to yourself, no matter what is going on around you. I kept following that urge little steps at a time. And I found myself here, where I am now, playing with clay all the time. It has become way of life for me.
I hope to imbue my pots with a sense of lightness.
When I moved to Woodstock 16 years ago, I had no televison, no internet, no gadgets to play with for ten years. My days were filled with playing with clay, long walks in the woods, playing with plants and trees. Past stories became little seeds I couldn’t identify with anymore. New seeds were planted, seasons changed, flowers bloomed, and I learned to enjoy all seasons in their fullness in this mountainside that I now call home.
New friendships were formed through the clay community and old bonds were honored with new perspectives. Lines between strangers, friends, students and teachers blurred to love for all humanity, and my sense of spirituality grew deeper. My pots grew in this way, organically, energetically. I also delved into learning about energy, healing modalities and spiritual modalities for my physical and spiritual well-being.
When I make my large vessels, I start by cleaning my space. I then begin with a small round flat shape that will be the bottom of a vessel I am making. Then I add coil and prepare the bottom of the pot, making sure the base will be able to support the large pot that will be formed as a large vessel. Each layer of coil is added then pinched vertically and horizontally, one layer at a time. Coil sizes vary as the pot is built, eventually becoming smaller as the pot’s opening gets smaller at the top.
I use many varieties of clay bodies for color and texture. Lots of times when I like the raw color of clay body in its vitrified state, I leave it raw and only glaze the inside of the pot. I love working with porcelain for its soft tactile quality and its translucency. It is temperamental to work with, so I can only build 4-5 inches tall at a time. I wrap the edges of the piece I am working on and let the rest of piece firm up.
While I wait, I go out to my garden to pull weeds, harvest plants for tincture-making or just enjoy and putter around the garden. Then I work on my vessels again and repeat the process. I especially love working outdoors in warm weather. I love working this way because it allows my spirit to stay soft. My natural tendency is to be obsessive and compulsive…to aggressively form what I had in mind. But this way of working allows me to stay soft…take my time…have space…make my mind wander…the maker and the observer of the maker all present through the making process!
When I finish forming the piece, I let the piece dry slowly over few days. Then the piece gets bisque fired to 1950˚ F, then glazed and fired a second time to 2290˚ F. Two to three times a year, a community of pottery friends wood-fire the vessels in a traditional kiln. I bring the bisque fired (first fired) pieces and we fire for four days and nights, sometimes going through five cords of wood and letting the burned ashes inside of the kiln melt and glaze my pots as if by magic!
I honor and respect thousands of years of ceramic tradition and try my best to stay within that tradition. I love the classic forms that breathe life into pots, then I add my own modern twist to forms with respect to tradition. My ongoing experiments with form, surface and clay body enhance the vision of a pot and continue to excite me to no end. At this point in my career as a maker, I find inspiration from the pieces themselves. Slight changes in the firing process, tweaking the glazing process, adding a line or subtracting, slight altering to bring forth pots to sing better—all contribute to my ongoing inspiration.
I have to say, fact that I am still excited doing what I do and have accrued 20 years of skill as a maker, as well as being able to teach and share what I know as a maker is very exciting. Of course, having been part of numerous prestigious exhibitions and having my work collected in the U.S. and internationally have been very exciting as well!
I really am at peace in my studio space. I have a blue stone wall that occupies the whole length of a wall in my studio. There is a stone ledge built in that is about 12″ deep x 20″ wide, and a built-in fireplace in that same wall. I love this wall and the stone ledge; I especially love placing a finished piece on this ledge and contemplating the general feel of a finished pot. And in the winter I make a fire in that fireplace while I work. It’s a wonderful stone wall, and a calming, beautiful space to work! My wish is that my pots bring peace and serenity to any environment they inhabit.