I’m a sucker for local, handmade goods. A handcrafted bamboo dragonfly made by the guy sitting in the middle of Kyoto’s bamboo forest? I’ll take one. A freshly painted canvas by the artist who sets up in the same spot everyday? Yes, please. So, I was very excited when I was invited to travel to Icheon’s ceramic village.
Icheon (not to be confused with Incheon, where the airport is, or Ichon, a subway stop in Seoul) is a city about an hour southeast from my current home. A group of friends and I decided to caravan down there. Two of our group were Korean ladies who took us to a beautiful street lined with pottery shops. We started at the beginning of the road and meandered back and forth between dozens of stores. Some of the shops were large and sold pieces that were mass produced. Some shops only sold Cheong-ja (the Western term is “celadon.”) Some places sold minimalist white pottery; others displayed stacks of pastel pieces that would be perfect for Easter celebrations. There were stores that sold pieces that had been made with wood fire kilns, stores with pottery that closely resembled Fiestaware, and stores had only traditional Korean pieces.
It was actually overwhelming at times. So. Much. Pottery. I wanted to buy all of it. I wanted tiny little bowls meant for holding soy sauce; I wanted intricately carved vases; I wanted entire dining sets. A little materialistic, yes, but for some reason I always feel more justified buying pieces like this rather than decorations from box stores. Luckily, I went in with a vague plan, and I think that helped rein me in. First, I planned to only spend the cash that I had with me (I had saved up some of my tutoring money). Second, I wanted “a big statement piece, with pretty colors.” Not the most exact idea, but it did help me stay focused. I was very tempted by a tea set in the first store I went in, but I reminded myself of my goal- big & colorful. I recommend a vague plan to anyone else who goes to visit, at least if you are an easily-swayed shopper like I am. I think I would have been disappointed if I had too specific of an idea in mind, or I would have overspent if I had no plan at all.
I’m happy to report that I was successful! Okay, I may have bought two extra pieces, but let’s not get too picky. We went into one store, and my eye was instantly drawn to this huge, shallow bowl. It had a navy and dark green swirled pattern, and was perfect. Big & colorful. I thought the design was classic, yet still modern. I asked the price- ₩90,000/$90.00, which I think is a good price for a large, unique piece. You pay good money for good pottery. I waited. We went to other stores, but I was not shopping as intently; nothing was even coming close to that piece, and I went back to get it at the end of the day. I didn’t even send a picture to Jared until after I had arrived home; I knew that it was too perfect to pass up. My other two pieces were a white bowl with cherry blossoms painted on it (to remember Korea) and a purple bowl (because I like purple).
I’m horrible at directions, but I did drop a pin on the map while I was there. This is the address I will use to return: 544-23 Sa-eumdong, Icheonsi, Gyeonggi. This road has a cul-de-sac and park at the end. My favorite stores were to the middle of the road and on the cul-de-sac. Once you get to the end there is a large building with hundreds of kimchi pots outside; this store has a wonderful old wood smell and some of the best traditional pieces I saw.
We still have a year and a half in Korea (I think), and I know I will be returning. I think that tea set is next on my list. Or maybe a kimchi pot. Or a vase.