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Gimhae’s Ceramic

Gimhae is a city at the southernmost part of the Korean peninsula. It is a major center of ceramic culture, and it traces its foundation all the way back to the kingdom of Gaya, when it was the capital. The city reached its zenith as a center of ceramics in the early Joseon period with the production of buncheong plates and tea vessels bearing the inscription of ‘金海 (Gimhae). During the next 400 years, from before the Japanese invasion of 1592 and through the colonial years and afterwards, most of the kilns were destroyed. By the late 1960s, only a few kilns for onggi were still in operation.
In 1975, Shimiz, a Japanese potter, and Kim Chun-sik, a Korean resident in Japan, built a studio at Jillye. In the laste ‘80s, more pottery studios opened in the Gimhae area, encouraged by rising public interest in traditional culture. On May 25, 1989, local pottery studios in Gimhae joined hands to organize the Gyeongsangnam-do Traditional Ceramics Association, with the pottery studios of Togwang-yo, Suro-yo, Seonghyang-yo, Gilcheon-yo, Cheonggok-yo, Yeongcheon-yo, Dusan-yo, Gisan-yo, and Geumgwan-yo taking the lead. The Association changed its name to the Gimhae Ceramics Association in July 1997, and it became a foundation on December 15, 2003.

As of December 2004, there were 75 studios owned by members of the Gimhae Ceramics Association in the Gimhae area, and there were many other studios of individual ceramic artists in the pottery villages of Jangyu-myeon, Saengnim-myeon, and Jinyeong-eup, with Jillye-myeon at the center. The number of pottery studios continues to rise. These studios produce traditional Korean ceramics including buncheongware, white porcelain, and porcelain with underglaze iron-brown design. The most common items are tea vessels, plates, jars, and other everyday life items.

The vast majority of studio potters (more than 80 percent) are not from Gimhae, but for several reasons, they have made Gimhae the new center of ceramics. First, Gimhae is a city of history and traditional heritage. It was the center of earthenware of the Gaya Kingdom and buncheongware of the early Joseon. Second, Gimhae is easily accessible from all parts of the country because the Seoul-Busan Expressway passes close by. It also has high market demand because it is between Busan, Changwon, and Masan. Third, Gimhae produces high-quality products at lower prices, and its products are differentiated from those produced elsewhere. The local festivals of Gimhae also serve to boost demand for Gimhae ceramics.

The Gimhae Ceramics Festival is held in Songjeong-ri, Jillye-myeon every October and attracts visitors from all over the country and overseas. This annual festival was first held in 1996, and it shows visitors all about buncheongware, which is considered the one type of ceramics that best represents the originality of Korean beauty. Unlike other ceramics festivals, such as the Icheon Ceramics Festival held in Icheon, Gyeoggi-do or the Celadon Festival’of Gangjin, Jeolla-do, the Gimhae festival highlights buncheongware.

There many exciting activities for visitors at the Gimhae Ceramics Festival. Among these are ceramic-making demonstrations, a firing of a traditional wood-fired kiln, do-it-yourself pottery, instruction on how to tell the genuine from the imitation, ceramics classes, a ceramics competition for students, and other participatory programs that satisfy the needs of the public for culture. The program on how to tell the genuine from the imitation is one of many that are held only at this festival. Any visitor who finds a genuine piece out of a huge collection of cheap, imitation ceramic pieces is given the genuine piece as an award to take home.

During the festival, you can buy ceramics at discounts of 30 to 40 percent off regular prices. In its effort to increase interest in ceramics, the festival organizers invite visitors on studio tours in the area.

Gimhae is seeking to establish itself as a niche market producer that can be easily accessed by ordinary consumers. It is applying the strategy of differentiation between the high-end market of traditional celadon and white porcelain from Gangjin, Gwangju, and Icheon and the very expressive contemporary ceramic artworks.

Clayarch Gimhae-The Village will cover 130,000 square meters and will be divided into an exhibition area and a ceramic-making area where visitors can try their own hands at ceramics

Another new Gimhae Pottery Village is now under construction as part of the Comprehensive Gimhae Tourism Development Plan.’ The objectives of the plan are to establish the infrastructure for culture and tourism with a focus on the culture, history, and environment of Gimhae; to fully develop the market for cultural and tourism products; and to promote development of the ceramics industry. The Village will cover 130,000 square meters and will be divided into an exhibition area and a ceramic-making area where visitors can try their own hands at ceramics. The Gimhae Ceramics Exhibition Hall will house galleries for exhibitions of permanent collections and special exhibitions to help the public better understand ceramics. The Gimhae Ceramics Training Center will serve as a workshop for both domestic and international ceramic artists. The Gimhae Citizens’Ceramics Hall will afford opportunities for ordinary citizens to experience making ceramics themselves. The Sculpture Park will show a variety of ceramic sculptures and will have an outdoor theater. Many other educational, cultural, and recreational facilities will be established in the Village as well.

The Gimhae Ceramic Village will function as a foundation for more systematic development of the ceramic culture in Korea. It will be an exemplary case study of a high-end tourism resource while increasing public interest in Gimhae ceramics and traditional Korean culture in general. Ultimately, the Village will be an engine to stimulate the ceramics industry of Gimhae.

Gimhae Ceramic Village Gimhae Ceramic Village