Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Crane Ib Hak Style Tea Bowl: An Example By Kim Jeong Oak

The crane is an auspicious bird. The crane is a symbol of immortality. Taoists believe that cranes are the vehicles that morals take to heaven, transporting them to the realm of immortality.

The characteristics that make up Ib Hak style bowls capture and transform this feeling into clay.
Into a bowl for which tea is drank.
Into a feeling of ascending into heaven.
Into the crane.

The most obvious features of these bowls is the image of a crane found on the side wall. The cranes on Ib Hak style bowls all look extremely familiar- white tip beak, black neck and head, white body and legs, black tail feathers, black feet.

The less obvious imagery of the crane is found in other characteristics of Ib Hak style bowls. If we look at the 'tong hyeong' style body of the bowl it too, represents the crane.

The bottom of the bowl bulges out a bit. This bulge is found in many bowls as the inside bulges outward conforming to the bulbous shape of the tea whisks fine bamboo thines. This shape is said to be conducive to making the best matcha as it allows for the smooth motion of the whisk when the tea is whipped up. It causes the tea to be exposed to the right amount of oxygen as it splashes up against the lower sides of the bowl.

Besides this of topic technical aspect, the bottom bulge looks like the body of the crane, the concave sides resemble the crane's neck, and the 'eui ban' style protruding lip looks like the crane's beak.

If we turn a Ib Hak style bowl over we can see its 'ja ren' style foot. This foot has 3 wide protrusions (the number 3 is also auspicious) that give the feeling of hooking in and anchoring down. A crane's foot has three pronounced toes. When hunting and walking the crane stands on only one foot, yet is completely in balance. In this way the foot of Ib Hak style bowls is the foot of the crane standing in balance.

Overall, the shape of bowl exudes a feeling of upward movement or ascending. Specifically how the sides of the bowl curve out ascending gently towards the 'eui ban' style lip which gracefully slopes toward the heavens.

Unlike most styles of Korean tea bowls, it stands quite tall. The height of the bowls 'tong hyeong' shape creates a feeling of ascending, of swooping upwards- a crane in flight.

This bowl is the crane.
As frothy matcha slopes over the lip sliding tea over our tongue, we too, perhaps just for a while, are carried away to a heavenly place.
Transcending time, transcending mortality.



Cho Hak said...

There is no mention that Kim Jeong Ok is Korea's only National Human Intangible Property (or Human Cultural Treasure) in ceramics. There are a number of provincial or regional Human Treasures in ceramics. Kim Jeong Ok lives in Mungyeong a 1000 year old tea ware village. Each year they hold a Tea Bowl Festival. The tea tour at will visit Mungyeong during that festival. This style bowl is not typical for Kim Jong Ok. I'll post a photo of him along with another chassabal if you allow me.

Matt said...


You're right. This style of tea bowl (Kor: cha sa bal) is not commonly spotted these days in Korea. Like all art, there are periods where some styles are fashionable and times when they are less popular. Two hundred and fifty years ago this style would have been much more 'in vougue'.

If you click on the label 'Kim Jeong Oak' at the bottom of the post you can see other great examples of Kim Jeong Oak's cha as bals.