• Updated : 2020.4.3 금 18:26
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Onggi: a Hidden Treasure for Everyday Use중요무형문화재 제96호 정윤석 옹기장
장보람 객원기자  |  tribune1968@cnumedia.com
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승인 2012.12.19  16:17:19
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Onggijang showing the process of making the traditional pottery

The standard Korean diet is mainly built around kimchi. If it’s great, we would be reminded of onggi, which is a Korean traditional clay pottery that ranges from large to small storage jars for everyday use. It has very efficient and innovative functions especially in making fermented foods like doenjang or fermented soybean paste. For Koreans, onggi isn’t just a pottery, but a reflection of the heart of the Korean people. The reason why Koreans highly esteem onggi is from the intimacy which every house possesses. Onggi is a perfect container that maintains optimal conditions for preservation and fermentation of foods because it is a breathable earthen pot which has the proper porosity and permeability for microbial development.  Onggijang Jung Yun-seok devoted his lifetime to infuse breath into onggi and was designated as an Onggijang, Master artisan of onggi-making skill holder, the Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 96 in 2010. In the past, the Gangjin area had been a flourishing ceramic production site, and he had to overcome numerous difficulties in making and selling Onggi for a living since he was 16 years old. “All my efforts have been finally rewarded. The bigger belly of onggi jars than other regional ones is a characteristic of clay pots in Jeolla Province. It has a very simple making procedure and is lighter than other regional ones.”

Onggijang Jeong yoon-seok’s art works in different sizes

The Onggi making process starts with clay preparation to make clay bars. The potters mainly use a paddle or a beating stick to stretch a spiral cylinder of clay and shape a pot on the wheel spun by foot in the floor. After flattering clay discs and forming the pot wall using slabs of clay, they encircle the pot wall all around shaped like a sieve-frame and paint some figures on the pot. Then, onggi is dried and glazed with lye before being put into a kiln. At this moment, Koreans usually make offerings to the spirits before firing a kiln. Usually for onggi, the proper temperature is from 900 to 1200 degrees Celsius.
Onggijang Jung has his own way to glaze the pot using only natural lye rather than red lead which is usually used in manufacturing. Although red lead would be harmful for our health, large numbers of pots have been manufactured by using it and kilning from less than 900 Celsius degrees to reduce production costs. He said that using red lead has incurred Koreans’ distrust about onggi glazing, but the advent of plastic containers was a crucial deathblow to the quality of onggi. Now, the world is changing and wellbeing became a major trend in our society. Many people seek traditional practices for their wellbeing in life again.
What should we think about onggi? Is it art work or goods for daily life? It has been his main anxiety. Onggi has taken for granted so much for us. That is why we don’t know how precious it is. “There are a lot of followers of ceramics but no one for onggi. Cultivating professional artisans is essential for preserving our onggi culture.” His son has a plan to put art into onggi as the one successor of the Onggijang. To survive in modern society, he sometimes changed as a merchant to sell onggi directly. Other potters did not consider ‘some changes’ and just abandoned onggi making completely. This reporter felt the pride and ardent love towards onggi from deep inside of his heart. His resolution and persistence to preserve our valuable tradition is very impressive.


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