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Making Pottery at Icheon Ceramics Village

When I started my Master’s, I couldn’t have guessed that I would end up writing my dissertation on Joseon ceramics. But when I started getting more involved in the contemporary Korean art scene, I kept noticing imagery of ancient porcelain popping up. Clearly, Koreans today felt a strong connection to their past through the symbolism of their pottery.

Ever since then, it’s been a dream of mine to visit the Icheon Ceramics Village. I finally got to do that when I had an unexpected morning off of work, and now I want to share my experience with you.

Korean Pottery Types

There are three main types of pottery in Korea. Each type is often associated with a specific dynasty or time period, so we can guess its age based on style, design or glaze.

Cheongja 고려청자 – Celadon ware: Korean celadon is easy to spot with its deep greenish hues and glossy body. It was first introduced in the Goryeo dynasty and is famous for its beautiful inlay designs.

Buncheong 분청사기 – Korean stoneware: Korean stoneware is identifiable from its dark blue-green hues and carved texture. It had its heyday at the start of the Joseon dynasty, but that popularity only lasted for about 1,000 years.

Baekja 백자 – White porcelain: Starting from the 16th century, white porcelain overtook all other forms of pottery. Its minimal color without lavish decorations was a clear nod to Confucianism. Eventually, blue and white porcelain came into play, but even then the cobalt paintings were sparse. As Confucianism was the state ideology, things were expected to be simple, neat, and thought-provoking.

Icheon: How To Get There

I was blessed to have a driver with me, but getting to Icheon isn’t difficult if you’re unable to rent a car. In fact, it’s only an hour outside of Seoul, so taking public transportation is a quick, cheap and easy choice.

Bus: Take a bus from the Seoul Express Bus Terminal to Icheon Terminal. The full ride is one hour without transfers. Leaves every twenty minutes. Take bus number 114 or 114-1 from Icheon to Sugwang 1-ri – about 11 minutes. Around 7,000 won.

Subway: From Nambu Bus Terminal, head directly to Icheon Station on Line 3. One hour without transfers. When you arrive at the station, take any of the following buses for 25 minutes: 24-1, 24-4, 24-44, 24-25. Depart at Sugwang 1-ri. Around 5,000 won in total.

And of course, you can always take a rental car if you have your license! The full drive with light traffic takes one hour from Seoul City Hall.

Making A Ware

Since I wasn’t up for running all over Icehon, a pottery studio was carefully selected in advance. It’s called 평강도요 (Pyeongkangdoyo) and you can find it tucked away near the back of the ceramics village.

The outside consisted of two buildings with little tables on the sidewalk selling handmade wares. It was easily the most inviting shop on the street. Inside, there were packing boxes everywhere with gorgeous plates and cups being shipped out to restaurants. Messily organized shelves boasted water droppers, flower vases and soju cups. Some had price tags, others were neglected. Some had dust, others had flowers inside. It was truly an artist’s studio.

To reserve a pottery class, call in advance or wait in the queue when you arrive. Depending on the day of the week, you could wait anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.

Once you arrive, the staff will ask if you want to make your pottery alone or if you want a ‘wee bit’ of help from the expert. Of course, I chose the expert, because who really wants a lopsided soju bottle?

The next step is choosing your shape. They had about 10 different options ranging from tiny, decorative pots to simple bowls. It takes about 5 minutes to fully form the shape with the help of a teacher. Afterward, you can decorate it with any carvings you’d like.

The standard glaze is a soft blue that costs about 22,000 won, but if you want something more intricate, you can ask to see their full options! Take a sneak peek into their kiln room for decoration inspiration galore. And after you’re done – tag us in a photo on Instagram at @pinpointkorea!

So, I finally got my handmade ceramic. And after I skipped happily out of the shop, I let myself take a stroll around the village. It was truly breathtaking. Most shops are empty, with only the potter at their window working away. Some of them even appear to be a living space. Tall, white grasses decorated the now empty stream that runs through town. Mountains stared down around me. I could have spent another 5 hours there, but I decided to save it for another unexpectedly free morning.

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