“How long have you been doing pottery?”
This is one of those questions that I get asked often…along with “how did you get started?”, “how long did it take you to make this piece?” and “are you Japanese or Chinese?”
I am Korean-American. Korean by ethnic heritage and American by citizenship. Does this have anything to do with my pottery? Maybe my Asian heritage has everything to do with who I am and how my work has evolved.
I knew at the age of seven, with pride at my first blue ribbon on my drawing at school, that I would be an artist. It was either that or an airline stewardess—it was glamorous back then. My father persuaded against being a stewardess—not a career path for a daughter of an elite family. I figured I was too short to reach the overhead compartment anyway. He sold me on studying art in Paris. We moved to US when I was nine, and 10 years later, my parents divorced during my freshman year in college. My mom, who gave up her dance career to get married and raise a family—like women of proper breeding are expected to do in Korea—remarried so that she could send her four kids to college. I wanted independence and a real career. I switched from Fine Arts: Textiles and Ceramics to Visual Communication—Graphic Design. Somewhere along the way of climbing the corporate ladder in Marketing and Advertising, I stopped being an artist.
I touched clay for the first time in high school in 1982 but didn’t make my first teapot until 27 years later in 2009. I struggled to conceive, construct, and craft this teapot so much that in defeat, I swore that I would never ever make another teapot,… ever again.
That failed teapot haunted me for over a year. We all have to start somewhere! I started making teapots again. I explored different body forms, handles, and lids. And I struggled through the engineering of what makes a teapot a teapot. Did you know that the placement of the spout’s tip is determined by the water level in the body? Or that it takes care to ensure the glaze doesn’t fill in the strainer holes? Or that the handle has to be long enough so that the lid has space lift out comfortably? Or that carefully cleaning the glaze off of the gallery helps the lid not stick to the body? The list of failures/learnings still continue. But with each series, I can point to more successes than losses.
In 2012, my husband and I moved our family to the Bay Area, found OVCAG, and I participated in my first Art In Clay where I showed work produced in Chicago and realized that the eye for pottery on the west coast is different than in the midwest. Colors were brighter, surface decoration and texture more vibrant and alive. I think the same can be said of the area in general. But more than the natural environment, I was hit with a cultural shock I haven’t felt until this move. What I am used to is anxiously walking through a diner in my husband’s home town in rural Illinois, where every head turns to stare as if Asians are aliens from outer space. Even my white husband couldn’t shield the blinking neon arrows pointed at my whole being. In the bay area, my Asian-ness is a non-event. Even my bi-racial marriage seemed the norm, maybe even hip.
Asian influences found their way into my work… maybe they were there all along. I was fortunate to be able to stop working full-time to focus on pottery. Now with more free time, internet access opened my eyes to the inspiration I needed to focus my vision and work towards finding my voice. Traditional forms with contemporary interpretations appealed to me the most. Sensual lines that hint at volume, yet weightlessness, at the same time. Who’d have thought that a vessel could be so sexy! Naturally, when I was invited to wood fire with Phil Park at Spring Valley Anagama, I jumped into the fire with both feet. Sexy and HOT! I think potters have a bit of Pyro tendencies! While forced heat scares me (propane and gas kilns), wood kiln-firing and pit-firing is like sitting around a camp fire. Mesmerizing and energizing at the same time. My two season wood-firing experience only scratched the surface of its potential for me. I look at it as a gift from the kiln. I’m still learning to read the fire and listen for the roar.
I’m not sure that I’ve found that definitive voice in my work, but when I’m introduced to new friends, my teapots seem to be the focus of attention. I enjoy making teapots now. Can’t say that I have the magic formula for the pourfect spout. I’m advancing but still exploring the many facets of the teapot’s purpose and story.
So, how long does it take to make a teapot? Don’t know yet. Still working on it.