The process of how Hwang became a potter is a long story. She grew up in a potter family, both her father and brother being potters. Naturally, Hwang became interested in pottery as she grew up playing with clay. However, pottery was not her first career choice. In fact, she initially majored in Painting at Ewha.
“The reason why I majored in western painting was simply because I was talented at it,” Hwang said. “When I went to see a waterfall, I started drawing the scenery right away. It came to me quite easily and naturally.”
After graduating from college, Hwang worked as an art teacher. However, at the age of 32, she entered the pottery department in Ewha graduate school to restore the tradition of Korean pottery. Around that time, pottery was abandoned in Korea. As the descendent of a potter family, she could not just sit on her hands and watch it happen.
Moreover, her older brother played a major role in making her start her career in pottery. Thanks to his excellent skills as a potter, he was offered a position as a professor several times by Ewha. However, he refused at first.
“As an artist who knows how magnificent his talent is, I could not let him miss such a great opportunity,” Hwang recalled. “Thus, to persuade him to become a professor, I decided to become a student of the pottery department which had a strong effect in changing his mind.”
Although most people would agree that 32 is too old to start a new career, Hwang did not experience much difficulty. After she learned the techniques, it was easy for her to develop her skills.
“The western painting I learned in college helped a lot,” Hwang said. “The western style became a base of my pottery designs.”
Of course, there are differences between western painting and pottery. Western painting is like a scene on a flat surface with a variety of colors, whereas pottery is a vivid three-dimensional piece. Hwang combined this western style with Korean-style pottery.
Hwang’s most outstanding work is seen in the traditional Korean-style pottery technique called “Gwiyal.” This style leaves a light touch of a brush on pottery in a natural way. It was not widely known but Hwang found this technique by reading many books.
Hwang’s discovery drew the attention of the world. With a technique that had never been tried in other countries, she raised the status of Korean pottery.
“I opened my own exhibitions in numerous countries such as Japan and the United States, showing the distinctive beauty of Korean pottery,” she said. “Many people were surprised at the beauty of Gwiyal and started to recognize the elegance of Korean pottery.”
When asked about the most memorable piece of pottery she made, she hesitated to choose one.
“For me, every single piece is precious,” Hwang said. “Each one has its own story and charm.”
Another special feat of Hwang’s is the establishment of the first pottery laboratory in Korea.
“I needed a place where I could work with a kiln, which is why I chose to build it at the foot of the mountain.” Hwang said. “Also,the main entrance of the laboratory should face south, which is an ideal arrangement according to a Korean traditional idea of topography.”
It seems that it had a positive effect as many foreigners come from afar to personally see her pieces in her laboratory.
Despite her remarkable achievements, Hwang still worries about domestic pottery because its uniqueness and high quality is treated poorly in Korea.
“Compared to potteries of other Eastern Asian countries, Korean pottery is much bolder, making it globally competitive,” Hwang emphasized. “Unfortunately, compared to Japan where they treat potteries as valuable arts, Korea is not respecting it as much.”
Hwang added a final comment for future generations.
“You have to keep history, uniqueness, and the authentic Korean style that other countries do not have in pottery,” Hwang said. “Moreover, the form of pottery changes as times goes. Thus, it is important that we reflect the trends of the times as well as preserving our traditions.”