Icheon, Gyeonggi-do Province, is known as the nation’s “pottery hub” for the quality of its soil. Owing to its proximity to Hanyang (old name of Seoul), which was the capital of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), skilled potters in the past competed to create the highest quality works to send to the royal palace. Ye’s Park hosts not only workshops on traditional Korean pottery but those on other arts.
In 2010, Icheon was Korea’s first city to join UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network thanks to its successful hosting of the International Ceramic Biennale and other ceramic events, standing out for its structured approach and organization toward professionally handling pottery works. In 2018, Icheon was also named the chair city of the Network’s crafts and folk arts division.
Icheon has 23 ceramic masters — six nationally recognized, 17 designated by the city and three in both categories — who have spent decades honing their craft; nearly 500 ceramic workshops are also located there. In 2018, the city sent seven ceramic masters to the Louvre Museum in Paris to demonstrate Korean pottery making at the International Heritage Fair. Icheon is also promoting such works to the world. As a case in point, after years of participation in Maison&Objet Paris, sophistication was added to the manner in which Korean ceramics were introduced by plating food on the beautifully crafted ceramic pieces rather than simply showing the works. In that sense, Icheon is leading the promotion of Korean crafts to the world.
Gallery Spanning Entire Village
Ye’s Park was opened in April 2018 to promote Icheon’s unique cultural content to the world. Driving there from Seoul’s Gangnam-gu District takes under an hour. The “Ye” in the name means “skill” or “talent” in Korean, indicating pride in art.
Surrounded by mountains and fields, an area covering 406,597 m2 forms a village with more than 221 craft workshops for ceramics, paintings, vintage furniture, sculptures, wooden crafts, fabric, lacquerware and other specialties. Each shop has its own identity and walking through them makes one feel like he or she is at a gigantic art gallery. Visitors are advised to check the location the workshops at the tourist information center to avoid getting lost in the huge village.
Creating with Artists
The number and variety of works presented by talented artists know no limits here. What stands out, however, are the experiential programs for creating artworks in collaboration with artists. Stores offer a variety of experiences, and the presence of skilled artists at the gallery means taking a stab at art is no longer intimidating.
Befitting its reputation as a ceramic hub, Icheon is home to many prominent ceramic shops. Namyang Ceramics and Hwamokto Ceramics out of a handful of shops allow visitors to make pottery by hand and bake their creations using a wood-fired oven. Flux is one of the city’s best glass art workshops and has a do-it-yourself program for glass art. Other notable establishments include Otchilartmo for lacquerware; Tozsto, a ceramic doll painting studio famous among both children and adults; Ceraguirtar, a craft guitar shop where the building is shaped like a guitar; and Gallery Doyoon, which features exquisite paintings. If time allows, visiting the hundreds of stores lined up on the street is well worth your time.
Visitors who enter a store will receive a warm welcome from the resident artists and their works. One can sit and chat with the artists over tea, and even work together on a project. A workshop here is not simply a gallery or workplace for artists but also their home, with some even equipped with a guest room for visitors under the concept of “artstay.” This opportunity offers a rare peek into the lives of the artists and close interactions with them, and this connection between visitors and artists makes Ye’s Park unique.
Dose of Art in Real Life
In spite of having been open for just a year, Ye’s Park hosts a variety of festivals that attract large crowds. The park is divided into themed sections: Gama Village, Hoerang Village, Byeol Village, Sabujak Road and Café Street. Each section features vibrant festivals and flea markets.
Because the park is open year-round, tabulating the number of visitors is difficult. At the 33rd Icheon Ceramic Festival held from April to May this year, however, attendance was estimated at 500,000. Launched in 1987, the festival has grown in size and added more programs held at the park since its opening. The facility also hosts the National Acoustic Guitar Festival in June and holds a summer festival from July to August. Facilities like a pool under a dome, a large-scale stage and a campsite attract families wishing to spend time together while appreciating art. To take a break from ordinary life, the perfect solution is to check out the art festivals and interact the artists at the park.
Written by Kim Samuel / Photographed by Studio Kenn