Icheon and Yeoju: Pottery Capital of South Korea

by Wendy Palomo
Groove Korea Magazine
I always look forward to the pottery classes at the National Museum of Korea, particularly their Blue and White Porcelain and Buncheong Celadon classes. My amateur hands have painted and shaped some of the art works I display at home, but I knew I needed to get my own collection of these precious pieces.
So, one cloudy Monday morning, my friends and I were on our way to Yeoju and Icheon, declared by UNESCO to be a City of Crafts and Folk Art. It was a little over an hour of leisurely driving from Ichon (Seoul) before we arrived at our first destination, Sam Bo in Yeoju. 
Sam Bo is a blue and white porcelain shop that boasts a large collection of plates and bowls of different shapes and sizes. Personally, I wanted shallower square plates, but I thought I wasn’t prepared for the cost, so I opted for deeper square dishes instead that could work well as serving dishes or pasta plates. Square plates, especially those with corner designs, are harder to make so tend to be more expensive pieces.
On our way out, we were treated to a delightful surprise. A kindly ahjussi ushered us over to Sam Bo’s factory located just behind the shop. It was awesome to see the different production stages of these blue and white porcelain pieces. Bowls and dishes were placed in different sections depending on the designs and they go through a long conveyor where the printing and baking happens.
After a good lunch ending with Korean scorched rice called nulungji (누룽지), our group proceeded to Icheon’s Ceramic Village called Sagi Makgol. This place is a haven of handcrafted pottery.
It’s easy to lose track of time going from one shop to another and admiring each piece. As you go along, you will be able to see which shops display common pottery items and which produce artisanal pieces. Needless to say, these are more expensive and precious, but they make the trip worth it.
Some shops have areas where visitors can easily see artisans at work. We happened to get into one and the three of us had a good laugh when one of the men unexpectedly belted out lines from the song “Unchained Melody” from the 1990 movie “Ghost”.
At the far end of Sagi Makgol, there was a traditional kiln that appears to be for communal use. It would have been incredibly lucky to have caught artists at work using the traditional kiln, but it seems this chance may be reserved for our next visit.
What’s to look forward to?
Icheon hosts an annual Ceramics Festival. Check the homepage for more details: www.ceramic.or.kr
To follow Wendy, check out her blog at http://wendyflor.com.

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