Visiting artist Yeonsoo Kim leads a workshop at Harvard Ceramics Center. Kim is pictured at the wheel speaking about his technique.

Photos by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Arts & Culture

Hitting it right

3 min read

Yeonsoo Kim demonstrates the difficult art of Onggi

Award-winning artist Yeonsoo Kim demonstrated the craft of making an Onggi pot, a large, hand-built, slab-constructed form used for food fermentation and storage, during a one-day workshop at Harvard Ceramics Program in early February.

“Using a paddle method to compress the clay and have the walls get thinner, and the shape of the pot emerges. It’s very difficult to do, because it’s really about hitting the clay right,” said Kathy King, director of the Harvard Ceramics Program. “As we watched him build today, it was always completely even at the top. I mean, I couldn’t do that in a million years.”

The Korean-born ceramicist, who maintains a studio in Exeter, New Hampshire, is also known for the joyful doodles he creates on surfaces, King added.

“What’s been really touching is that sometimes during artists’ demonstrations, people just get fixated on the techniques and the tools,” said King. “Instead, it’s been a lot of storytelling on Yeonsoo’s part. To talk about where the imagery comes from in his work and his background and how that works into these incredible collages of imagery on his pots.”

Yeonsoo Kim demonstrates using a heavy wooden kickwheel brought from Korea nine years ago.
A close up of Kim’s Onggi pot, used for food storage and fermentation.

Kim spent the afternoon painting, drawing, and carving to create sgraffito, a layered effect in the designs. The attendees, who included undergraduate and graduate students, staff, and local residents, then tried to incorporate his lessons into their own handiwork by applying surface decorations to tiles.

“Onggi is my own heritage, my own culture,” shared Kim. “I share my experience and my knowledge. It means a lot to me.”

Shirah Rubin, an independent studies artist at the Ceramics Program, said she took away an important reminder that “the vulnerability to tell my story is both an act of being authentic to myself and how narrative can spark human connection and empathy.”

“Yeonsoo Kim gave us a window into his personal pep talks that fuel his works. His art reveals the tension between tradition and innovation through traditional Korean Onggi and the playful narrative on the surface of his pieces,” she said. “I came away from the workshop inspired.”

Shirah Rubin (left), an independent studies artist in the ceramics program, listens during the workshop.
Kim shares stories during the workshop.
Attendees were all ears during the workshop.
Joyce Wu (left) watches Kim work.
Kim speaks about his surface techniques, which use colorful slips and sgraffito designs.
Kim holds up one of his finished pots as an example of his glaze treatments.
Harvard Ceramics Program instructor Jenny Peace (pictured) listens during the workshop.
Kim’s glazed work is displayed for the attendees.
Jiayu Wu ’25 paints her tiles with slip.
Linda Nathan, Ed.D. ’95, who lectures at Harvard Graduate School of Education, scratches slip to make sgraffito.
A detail of the tiles made by Libby Min ’25.