Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lee Kyu Tak's Teaware: Teapots and Tea Sets

Have you read the first post on Lee Kyu Tak?
Lee Kyu Tak is one of the most versatile teaware artists I know.  His teaware includes teapots, water pots, water heaters, water storage jars, waste water jars, ceremonial tea caddies, storage tea caddies, chawan, incense censers and incense cases.  I have not found another teaware artist who exceeds the variety of teaware items as those produced by Lee Kyu Tak.  There are so many teaware options that I am probably missing some.  In addition, he treats each of them in so many different ways that it is impossible to show them all.  So this blog post is limited to teapots and tea sets and can only be an introduction to them. 
If you are interested in purchasing, you should know that the items you see here may no longer be available.  We will be happy to see what is available since at this time we do not stock his work.  I’m just a potter trying to promote Korean tea and teaware and can’t afford to carry much stock.

 Click images to enlarge. Click the X in the upper corner to return.

To begin let’s look at the anatomy of a good teapot.
The Body:  The teapot body must not be so large that the infused tea will become cold, strong or bitter before it is consumed.  That is why most Korean teapots are quite small compared to Western style teapots or English style.

The Cooling: While it is not a teapot, a Korean style teapot must have a companion cooling bowl, cooling pitcher or open cooling teapot.  When infusing with a Korean teapot, the tealeaves are infused in the teapot and the entire finished contents poured into the cooling pot before serving.  This insures proper brewing for all infusions.  The tea is served from the cooling pot not the teapot.  So the cooling vessel must have a large enough capacity to receive all the tea from the teapot.
Since Korean teapots do come in various sizes you will want to consider the use of your particular teapot.  Will you be using it for 3 or fewer guests or for larger groups?
Next to the body capacity and the cooling vessel, we should look at either the spout or the lid opening.  Because I can treat it simply, let’s look at the spout.

The Spout: The opening of the spout in relation to the water level of the teapot is very important.  If you draw a visual line from the bottom of the opening of the spout straight back to the handle that line will be at the maximum water level for the teapot.  All of Lee Kyu Tak’s teapots are made with that in mind.  This is particularly important.  There are many, usually Western made teapots, where the spot opening is far too low on the pot.  This should be the first thing a potter considers when adding a spout to a teapot.
Next, let’s look at the opening of the teapot itself. But first The Knob:
Does the knob function well?  Is it too fragile?
 Click images to enlarge. Click the X in the upper corner to return.

The Opening: Take off the lid and look inside.  With this size of an opening, will this teapot be easy to clean?  Will it be relatively easy to add the loose tealeaves to the teapot?  Will it be easy to remove the used loose tealeaves from this teapot?  With all of Lee Kyu Tak’s teapots the answer is a resounding YES.
The Strainer: Is a tea leaf strainer built into the teapot?  Teapots for loose leaf tea must have a leaf strainer.  Are the holes in the strainer small enough to block most leaves from coming out of the teapot?  Note: it is impossible to block all leaf fragments and tea dust from coming out of the spout.  That is why we often use an external mesh strainer when serving tea.  The teapot straining holes are the first defense.  Some small leaves may escape because they enter the strainer hole point end first and broken pieces and tea leaf dust really can’t be avoided.  Lee Kyu Tak’s teapot strainers are perfect.  When considering a teapot, look at the thickness of the glaze within the teapot.  Was the glaze applied so thickly that it filled or reduced the size of the strainer holes?  Are the strainer holes too large or too small?  This is not an issue with Lee Kyu Tak. 
One other thought on strainer holes.  There is currently a debate between serious teapot artists who are asking which style is best A) holes through the natural wall of the teapot or B) indenting the wall to create a bulbous strainer.  While many Western artists are taught to indent a bulbous form before creating the strainer holes some Asian teaware artists, who know tea deeply, are now arguing for the non-indented strainer.

The Handle: While the handle is important, back handles,

side handles or top handles

 or even wing handles

are a matter of personal choice.  Which is better for you?  Can you ‘handle’ the teapot easily with the handle on your teapot?  The large majority of Lee Kyu Tak’s handles are back handles.  That choice is an interesting one.  According to my teacher the Japanese master Hamada Shoji, Korea was the first country to use side handles.
The Decoration: While the decoration of a teapot has little to do with the physical aspects of a teapot, it has a lot to do with the emotional, perceptual and spiritual aspects of a teapot.  This is your teapot.  You must decide what type of mood you want to achieve with your teapot.  Some may want a flower on their teapot because a flower makes them feel good.

Others may want a teapot that is very humble and simple because such a piece will aid their meditation while drinking tea. 
There are many possibilities and all are legitimate because a teapot is personal.  What I might select could be the opposite of what you might select.  Can you live with that teapot?  Will that teapot serve you well?  Go back to my first post on Lee Kyu Tak for more on decoration.
Now that we have looked at the anatomy of a good teapot, lets look at some of the tea sets and other teapots made by Lee Kyu Tak. 

 Click images to enlarge. Click the X in the upper corner to return.
This is a simple 5 cup set - ‘Chosen Karatsu’ in style.  It includes a teapot with lid stand, cooling bowl, 5 cups and a ceremonial tea caddy.  A more simple and basic set would include a teapot, 3 cups and a cooling bowl or cooling pitcher.  Did you notice the lid stand?

This Jinsa-yu (copper red) set added a hot water pot.

This set has added to it a waste water bowl, water pot and heater.  The water pot is quite a bit larger than the teapot because of its several duties during the preparation of tea including heating water for the teapot, cooling bowl and cups. 
Note: the heater is not intended to bring the water to serving temperature but simply to keep it at serving temperature.

Even that many items may not be enough for some tea connoisseurs.  This ‘cherry blossom’ buncheong set has all the items above plus an additional teapot, including a larger one with a side handle and a smaller one in addition to two cooling options i.e. a cooling bowl and an open cooling teapot.
What “basic” items might be added to such a set?  Very little.  Although other teaware artists might add an ‘ocean’ and ‘boat’ or other water handling systems.


Lee Kyu Tak's tea sets and teapots come in many styles here numbered in case you are interested in learning more.  They are quite reasonable in price.  
I know I have ignored teacups on this post. Wait for the next post.
Thanks for reading this introduction to Lee Kyu Tak’s teapots and tea sets.  His work is far more versatile than I am able to illustrate here.  Join us on our next Korean Ceramic Tour or our next TeaTour Korea to meet him and many other artists personally.  We visit Lee Kyu Tak on both tours.  Contact us to learn when our next Korean tour is scheduled.
My next post will be on Lee Kyu Tak’s other teaware.  Contact us if you are interested in the prices of his work.  I think they are quite reasonable and I often give prices lower than you would pay in Korea. 

If you are interested in learning more about Korean ceramics, Korean tea or Korean culture in general, please consider liking us on FacebookYou might also like to connect to our website.  Click here to go there. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Korean Potter Lee Kyu Tak: Introduction

 Click images to enlarge. Click the X in the upper corner to return.
On our many travels to Korea, we have always tried to find one or two ceramic artists whose work is outstanding and touches us deeply.  These artists have formed the foundation of the content of our ceramic tours.  Our tour guests have often wondered how we were able to connect with so many exceptional ceramic artists.  Simply put, it takes time, dedication and many trips to Korea.
We first met Lee Kyu Tak in 2001 when we attended the first World Ceramic Exposition in Icheon, Korea.  Lee Kyu Tak was exhibiting his work and also had an artist’s booth.  Mary first spotted his work and called me to look at it.  It is rare to find a ceramic artist with such control of surface and form as that displayed by Lee Kyu Tak and also touches you deeply. 
Lee Kyu Tak Incense Censer and Case

Since the Goryeo Dynasty, Korea has made beautiful cosmetic cases.
Goryo Dynasty Cosmetic Cases
Of course it is not fair to compare old Goryeo Dynasty celadon made by humble artisans with a contemporary artist's buncheong.  Lee Kyu Tak’s cases made by a highly trained artist surpass the original in many ways.  However, the Goryeo work exhibits great skill and has a soft quality that can't be duplicated except perhaps by time.  Lee would not be producing such works had the humble Goryeo artists not gone before. 
Lee Kyu Tak

Lee Kyu Tak has both revived and re-purposed these cases for the storage of incense. 
Many potters shy away from these small cases since they must be made to fit perfectly.  Lee seems to relish this challenge.

Lee Kyu Tak began his studies by seeking out and studying with the great Japanese master the 11th Takatori Seijan.   Under the 11th Takatori Seijan, Lee developed the foundation of the discipline exhibited in his work today.
(We know that the Takatori family of potters are descendants of captive Korean potters from Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s Imjin War of 1592-98 that is also known as the Pottery War.)
It is not easy to connect with some artists.  We were not able to connect with Lee Kyu Tak for two years.  Then we discovered that the road is very narrow with twists and turns.  A large bus can’t make it.  He seemed hidden from the world.  But the effort to find him has many rewards.

Lee Kyu Tak's Garden

Lee’s kiln, garden, showroom, studio and home, like his work, are created with care.

Kyu Tak’s kiln is a step climbing kiln or orum gama also nogorigama (noborigama).  The word 'gama' or 'gamma' means 'kiln'.  This type kiln ,originally designed in Korea, became very popular with Japanese potters. 

A ceremonial chawan sits above the firebox. It was used as one of several offerings before the firing.


Entering Lee’s showroom we are greeted with a magnificent array of ceramics.

We had been first drawn to Lee Kyu’s work in part because of his carved buncheong (above) but his showroom revealed his mastery of many styles and surfaces.  The above style is reverse carving.

 Click images to enlarge. Click the X in the upper corner to return.
Lets look at a few examples of Lee Kyu Tak's work with a little more explanation.

Stamped Buncheong
To create stamped buncheong, Lee Kyu Tak must first create the stamps - hundreds of them.  Each stamp has been carved by hand from leather hard clay and then fired to a bisque. Then each stamped impression is carefully inlaid with soft white clay at the consistency of heavy cream allowed to stiffen and the excess is scraped away leaving the white design.  Each step takes hours of work and care.  Click on the above image twice to see the detail of his work.  

Some of  Lee Kyu Tak's Stamps

Lee Kyu Tak's versatility and understanding of the breadth and depth of ceramics can be illustrated with this and the previous piece.  This more rustic surface is the oldest type of glaze known.  It is simply a mixture of selected wood ashes and water.  However a more sophisticated artist like Lee Kyu Tak is probably also adjusting his ash mixture with some feldspar.  Natural stone in the clay body add to the feel of this chawan.    

For a Korean, this style is quite interesting.  In Japan the style is called Chosen Karatsu and is a style of glazing used by many ceramic artists in the Karatsu area of Japan.  But where did this style originate?  Why is it called "Chosen" Karatsu?  Why is it sometimes called 'Korean' Karatsu?  Ans: this glazing style comes from a type of Korean onggi.  You might say, "I never saw Korean onggi glazed that way".  That is because it comes from captive Korean potters during the Imjin War (1592-1598) who lived in the area of Korea we now call North Korea.  I'll show some examples of the North Korean onggi in this style on my onggi blog some day.

Jinsa! Copper red! One might think that the use of copper to obtain this blood red color originated in China but Korea was using copper red 200 years before the Chinese.  The Korean term for this is 'jinsa'.  There are two types of jinsa, 1. jinsa-yu that results in large areas of red often covering the pot completely and 2. jinsa-che or decoration with the brush to create the cherished blood red color often using gold.  The upper right corner illustration showing 9 examples of Lee Kyu Tak's work is jinsa-che but most likely not created by the use of gold.  The red and white areas on the jinsa-yu bottle above is the result of various amounts of oxygen in that part of the kiln during firing.  Sufficient oxygen = white, reduced oxygen = red. The glaze is the same. 

This incense censer or burner and accompanying incense case are right at home with those who understand Tea deeply. (Capital T)  Some may counter argue that the aroma of tea and incense are too competitive.  While others reply that simple incense like  aloeswood (also known as agarwood) is so subtle it enhances the Tea experience.   In any case this 'higher' relief carved incense censer and case are beautifully carved by Lee Kyu Tak to enhance the experience of tea.  I would like comments on this subject. 

Korea has a long history of Korean blue and white ware but this bold blue and white design is purely Lee Kyu Tak.  This is bold and boisterous where as old Korean blue and white ware is often very subtle and the blue is sparse.  Why?  The color is obtained through the use of cobalt.  Cobalt was very expensive during the Joseon Dynasty and the cobalt was often impure resulting in subtle grey-blue tones.  Here Lee Kyu Tak does the opposite, shouting BLUE but still there remains a softness to this contemporary blue.     
I hope this short incomplete introduction to the work of Lee Kyu Tak begins to touch the versatility, depth and breadth of his work.
All this and hardly a word about teaware.  My next post will be on  Lee Kyu Tak’s teaware.  Contact us if you are interested in the prices of his work.

Please go to the next post on Lee Kyu Tak.

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Quick Look at Korean Ceramic Styles (Part 2)

Note: This extremely brief description of Korea’s ceramic styles is not intended to be complete nor is it intended to describe in detail the many multi-faceted approaches to each of the styles mentioned.  That would take literally volumes on each of these styles.  Rather it is intended to be a very quick look at these styles so that we might be able to distinguish one from the other.
5.  Buncheong:  Buncheong is characterized by the use of white and sometimes black slip in decorating most often on a darker clay body.  Buncheong decorating processes include but are not limited to carved and inlaid slip called ‘sang hwa mun’, reverse inlay, stamped inlay, brushed on slip and dipped slip decorating processes.
These examples show a variety of Buncheong decrorating processes.  Buncheong became popular when celadon died out during the last days of the Goryeo Dynasty.  The earliest Buncheong decorations were reminicent of celadon decorations.  During its 200 year history Buncheong decorations became less complex and more natural.
These examples are by (1) and (2) Lee Kyu Tak, (3) Chan Han Bong, (4) Lee Kyu Tak, (5) Myeong Jae Hyun.
Examples of Buncheong Style follow:


6. Porcelain:  Porcelain uses a white sometimes translucent clay body that is traditionally fired to a high temperature. Typically Porcelain is glazed with a transparent glaze but contemporary porcelain is often glazed with a number of glazes that are often enhanced over a white clay body.  The most desirable porcelain pieces are those either painted with overglaze pigments or finely pierced carved.   
These porcelain works are by the artists (1) Moon Ji Young, (2) Lim Hang Teak, (3) Jeon Seong- Keun and (4) Lee Kyu Tak.
Examples or Porcelain Style follow: 

7. Stoneware: Stoneware utilizes a number of glazes and often decorating processes over a non-porcelainous clay body. Typically a stoneware clay body is more rough and most often fires in color to tints and shades of brown.  It is fired at higher temperatures.  Although some Korean tea ware is fired at what we call intermediate stoneware temperatures in the West.   
These stoneware examples are by (1) Cheon Han Bong, (2) Kin Jong Hun, (3) Park Jong Il, (4) Kim Jong Hun, (5) Park Kyung Jae and (6) Oh Sung Teak.
Examples of Stoneware follow:

8.  Contemporary:  The words ‘contemporary’ and ‘modern’ are rather synonymous and it was a coin flip decision to use ‘contemporary’ meaning in this case ‘current’, ‘latest’ or leading edge.  One could argue that anything made recently is ‘contemporary’ but that leads to a circular argument that I don’t want to have.  Often ‘contemporary’ ceramics like much contemporary art has its roots in historical work. 
Contemporary work can follow or break the 'rules' as the artist sees appropriate.
I have selected, for now, just two artists to represent the Contemporary Style Lee Kang Hyo who is inspired by buncheong and onggi and Shin Sangho who has been inspired by African sculpture and other works.  (1)(2) Lee Kang Hyo, (3) and (4) Shin Sangho. 
Following are examples of Contemporary Korean ceramics. 

The ceramic style examples in Part 1 and Part 2 are not meant to show all the possible variations of these eight ceramic styles.  Rather they were simply selected to show some variety within the styles. 
The styles in Part 1 span the early part of Korea’s ceramic history essentially from 57 BCE to 1392 CE when celadon died out and buncheong began.  It also marks the transition between The Goryeo Dynasty and the Joseon Dynasty sometimes called the Yi Dynasty and a major change in the religious/philosophical direction of Korea from Buddhism to Confucianism.  The Joseon Dynasty that officially lasted from 1392 CE to 1910 CE was not kind to tea in Korea but ceramics survived and with it the development of Korean chawan and much more.
The styles of Korean ceramics can be told as history lessons reflected in the political and cultural changes in Korea. 
Work by each of the artists represented in In both Part 1 and Part 2 (1) through (7) can be acquired through us.  Contact us for details.  We are also able to contact the contemporary artists (8) if there is serious interest.
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Now that you have seen a few images by various Korean artists here and in Part 1, on which artist(s) would you like me to create a more in-depth post?  Please message your selections to me on my Facebook Page.  A link to my email is above.