The master pottery artist breaks the mold.
Ki Woon Huh was meant to create art. Growing up in South Korea in the 1960s, he was a self-taught prodigy, sketching with pencil and paper in kindergarten and winning school-wide competitions by 18. But like many artists, his parents wanted him to pursue a more traditional career, so he went on the hunt for a more stable job.
But despite his best efforts, he couldn't escape his artistic curiosity. His next source of inspiration wasn’t an art studio or museum. It was a hot sauce manufacturer.
“In Korea, we use ceramics and pottery to store all of our ingredients and sauces,” says Huh, who uses his son, Young, as a translator. “When I saw them in a restaurant, I immediately stopped by the manufacturer and asked how they made them. I went from there and taught myself how to make pottery. I was bored from just drawing and painting. I took what I was drawing and painting and put it on my pottery.”
Huh has been a master potter and teacher in Sarasota since he immigrated to southwest Florida in 2000. Working and teaching daily in his cozy ceramics studio, which sits behind his house on Mink Road, Huh creates in an arts oasis, which also includes a gas-powered kiln (which reaches temperatures as high as 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit) and has an immense pottery gallery inside his house. On this sunny December day, Huh and his family were preparing his gallery for one of his open houses, in which he opens up his home and studio to the public and displays his art for sale.
His origins in pottery may have begun in bowls and cups, but Huh’s portfolio boasts dozens of pieces that sometimes look like they defy the laws of physics.
Teapots look like they’re made out of clouds. Vases are covered in minute details reminiscent of tree vines and leaves. Huh’s pottery style spans from photographic detail, like a lifesize replication of ballerina’s legs in mid-performance, to abstract creations that look like they jumped out of a Salvador Dali painting. And it’s all handmade.
“One of the first things you learn when you come here, is that you’re not here to learn how to make tea cups,” says Dan Harris, a local musician, who has been a student under Huh for the past three years. “He says ‘Show me your sketchbook,’ and he teaches you how to draw things from everyday life and how to create them out of porcelain.”
Huh, when he’s not teaching full time, finds time to work in his studio on his own work after dinner or late into the night, with classical music playing on his studio’s radio. In those spare hours, Huh creates about 50 major works each year. When he’s on a roll, he has even created as many as 400 miniature cups for a custom pieces in a single day.
Although he’d like more time to work on his own, Huh is thankful for the opportunity to teach.
“I get to meet such talented people who are great artists,” says Huh. “I have learned so much from other people and my students, and those ideas have always inspired my art.”