Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Appreciation & Wear of Kim Kyoung Soo's Grey & White Style: The Water Cooling Bowl

Water first enters the field of the tea table and is poured into the water cooling bowl (Kor: Na Num Sa Bal) from the hot water kettle (Kor: Soo Joo). As it enters the table it does so slowly and mindfully. The water flows from the spout of the hot water kettle like the water trickling down a mountain stream. When it hits the bottom of the water cooling bowl the sound reverberates into a calm mind- quieting the minds of all those present. The goal is to achieve a sound that mirrors a trickle of a mountain spring.

This Kim Kyoung Soo water cooling bowl produces a wonderful sound. As the water meets the hollows of this bowl the sound that springs fourth is amplified by the bowls lip which traverses the rim of the bowl. Kim Kyoung Soo's water cooling bowls opt for a distinctive shape which does wonders for achieving a deep, relaxing, natural sound. The shape of the cooling bowl's lip also allows you to gracefully and carefully pour out the hot water that rests inside without burning the fingers- a technique that takes a bit of practice.

The inside of this lip is pure white in colour, a stark contrast to the grey that covers the outside of the bowl and the patina that covers the once pure white inside of the serving pot that sits on the opposite side of the teapot. This pure white is maintained because only water and never tea enters the water cooling bowl. However the water cooling bowl nevertheless develops a patina. It is a patina of mineral salt that fills the cracked glaze- a reminder of its close relationship with water. Like a winter's frost covering the mountain, so too does the minerals of water cover the fine cracks of the cooling bowl. In this way, imparting it with not only a cooling function, but also a cooling look and feel.
This frosty white patina goes through a breathtaking metamorphosis every time water first comes in contact with it. The once frosty cracks turn light grey as the water first fills the dry bowl. Slowly the grey cracks disappear to white, blending with the rest of the inside.

The white mineral patina can also be found on the spout where water is poured from the cooling bowl. The contrast with the grey glaze is stunning as white sneaks over into grey. The outside of the cooling pot has the pictograph of the wind through the clouds facing the person preparing the tea and a pictograph of the moon facing the person receiving the tea. In this way water maintains its natural balance here.

The use of the water cooling bowl teaches us patience- nothing we can do but wait can cool the water as it rests in this bowl. In fact when this bowl is turned upside down its shape resembles that of a snail- this is no coincidence. The raw unglazed clay is also exposed here, grounding the bowl at its base.



Philippe de Bordeaux filipek said...

Belle Harmonie dans la présentation de ces ustensiles.



Matt said...

Philippe de Bordeaux,

Glad you like it. The set up is in the traditional Korean green tea ceremony style.


Eugenius Smith said...

It's a rare thing to see so much thought put into the energy characteristics of each individual piece of a teaset, let alone get to see it so eloquently documented. It's been a pleasure reading your series on Kim Kyoung Soo's wares, thank you for sharing them with us.


Matt said...


Thanks for all the kind thoughts and words.

It is important to understand the fine characteristics of each piece of teaware we use in preparing tea. If we only focus on the tea itself, in the end, some of its enjoyment will never be realized.


Anonymous said...

On the Metropolitan Museum of Art site there is information about a exhibition of Korean Buncheong ceramics.

Matt said...


Thanks. Here is a link for anyone interested:


The art is on loan from this gallery in Seoul:



Rebekah said...

Matt, thanks for this post. It is a wonderful guide to those looking to see and appreciate this style of pottery. I've been away from the reading group (but will catch up) because of travel in Korea. If I'm not mistaken, Kim Kyoung Soo was at the Mungyeong Tea Bowl Festival, and four of us had the good luck to drink tea with him and the tea master who was serving tea at his display? I loved all of his work -- am still regretting a tea pot I didn't buy on the spot.

Matt said...


Sorry for the late reply...

Didn't make it to the Teabowl Festival but his teapots are always a delight. In Korea his pots are much sought after. Unlike some potters who are more famous for their tea bowls, Kim Kyoung Soo has made a name for himself from his stunning pots.

Hope you had a great trip.