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December 09, 2010

Pottery and Perspective

A Single Shard + Korean Brush Painting at LACMA

Did you know that almost 100 different languages are spoken in Los Angeles? One of the great things about living here is being able to travel around the world without having to leave the city. Of course, you can travel around the world without even leaving your home if you do it through the pages of a book. Linda Sue Park takes us not only around the world but back to the 12th century in “A Single Shard,” the story of orphan boy Tree Ear who learns to be an artist. Tree Ear starts the story as a beggar, who starts to work for a local potter, Min, after watching him make pottery. When the Emperor’s emissary comes looking for the best art in the kingdom, Min sees this as his chance to get a royal commission. Min is too old to make the trip, but Tree Ear offers to go -- and he gets up his courage to ask Min if he can apprentice with him, learn how to make pottery just like Min does. Min should say yes -- but he refuses. Only his son, he insists, can be his apprentice, and his son is dead. Tree Ear is crushed, but because Min’s wife has been so kind to him, he volunteers to take Min’s pottery to the capital anyway. Unfortunately, Tree Ear is attacked by robbers on the way. They throw Min’s beautiful pottery over a cliff, and it shatters into a million pieces. All Tree Ear can find is a single shard of what was once breathtakingly beautiful. Tree Ear, who has been badly injured, faces some difficult decisions: Should he take the single shard to the Emperor, or just give up? What will he tell Min when he returns home? Tree Ear will learn lessons of courage, perseverance, and integrity before he makes his way home again.

After reading the book, we wanted to experience some Korean pottery for ourselves. Fortunately, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art let us explore the world of Korean art both visually and experientially. We started off by visiting the Korean art pavilion, where we saw some beautiful pottery, including celadon pottery just like Tree Ear learned to make. We appreciated it so much more now that we knew what goes into making it! The Korean art gallery also includes beautiful scrolls with incredible brush work and currently, visiting Korean conservators and restoring an 18th Century Korean Buddhist painting. We confess, though, our favorite artifact that we saw there were the incredibly intricate and lovely ladies’ hair pins -- with tiny spoons on the end for digging out ear wax(!). Housed in the Korean art pavilion is the Boone Children’s Gallery, a beautiful open space where we sat down to do some Korean brush painting of our own. Wonderful workers from the museum were on hand to get us started and explain how to use the different types of brushes with the tempura paint. We painted some trees and flowers, and tried to match some of the beautiful examples of impromptu Asian art posted up on the walls of the gallery. While we didn’t come home with anything worth framing, maybe you will -- and we had a lot of fun dabbling in a new kind of art.

Film Title: A Single Shard
Directed By: Linda Sue Park
2001, Rated , NOVEL

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about "A Single Shard."
  • Why It's Worth It:  Linda Sue Park is a Korean-American author who draws on her own heritage in her writing. Many of her books are set in medieval Korea, including not only "A Single Shard", but also "The Kite Fighters", about Korean kite-fighting, and "Seesaw Girl", which focuses on Korean embroidery.
  • The Newbery Medal. A Single Shard won the Newbery Medal in 2002, the most prestigious award for children's literature in the U.S. A Single Shard was the 80th winner in a long line of great books!
  • Pick the Right Reading Level. Some critics feel the Newbery Medal sometimes goes to books that are too difficult for most children. A Single Shard is aimed at nine to 12 year olds, but some younger kids readers have found the sections on making pottery a little tough to get through. Take a quick look to see if it's a book that your child, like so many others, will find it fascinating.
  • Get to know Linda Sue Park: Here is a link to the author's website so you can learn more about her, including news about her new book about the Sudan called "A Long Walk to Water".

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom for talking about the book:
  • Storytelling Savvy: Korean storytelling has a long tradition of “orphan under the bridge” stories. Our orphan Tree Ear lives by begging before he becomes an artist. Your kids have probably seen plenty of homeless people around Los Angeles, huddled in doorways or asking for money at freeway onramps. Ask whether they think any artists could be hidden among these folks. What would it take to help them discover their art? How would it feel to be homeless? Do you think it’s a good idea to give money to people who are begging? (There are no right answers here, but the discussion should be fascinating!)
  • Artistic Savvy: We learn so much about the process of making celadon pottery in the pages of “A Single Shard.” It’s a difficult and precise type of art. Talk to your kids about the process of creating art. What other kinds of artwork take the same meticulous care to learn and produce? Do you think it’s worth it to take so much time to learn a craft like this? What type of craft would you be willing to spend the time to learn?
  • Inspiration Savvy: Linda Sue Park wrote “A Single Shard” because she was inspired by a real artifact -- a shard of pottery -- that sparked something in her creative mind. Ask your kids what object in their lives might be the basis for a great story. Maybe it’s a work of art like A Single Shard, or a threadbare stuffed animal (like The Velveteen Rabbit), or even a song (like Olive the Other Reindeer). Try making up a story and see where it takes you!


Visiting the Boone Children’s Gallery at LACMA

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
5905 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90036
(at Wilshire and Fairfax)

Age Recommendations: 9 and up

Time Requirements: 1/2 hour to visit the Korean Art gallery, 1/2 hour to an hour in the Boone Children’s Gallery, plus extra time to visit other museum galleries and have lunch

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about the Boone Children's Gallery.
  • What Worked For Us: The Boone Children's Gallery has ongoing art projects for all ages - our kids can easily spend a leisurely hour playing with the copious art supplies, especially when assisted by one of the helpful curators. Naturally, we love anything that makes them relax at an art museum.  When we were kids, going to a museum meant a lot of waiting while our parents examined each and every artwork in detail. You'll have a hard time getting your family to proceed this way through a gallery; instead, try wandering from room to room, stopping to focus on one or two pieces per room that they find appealing. If they are able to set their own pace, and discover what they like, they're more likely to think the outing was a good one. And promising to hang out at the Boone goes a long way, too.
  • Conservation Team from Korea: A team of conservators from Korea are stationed here in LA while working to restore an 18th Century Korean Buddhist painting. Periodically, if you drop by the Boone, you'll see them at work. Here's a new YouTube video about their project and a story about their work, as well.
  • LACMA Right Now:  We've blogged about the new Resnick Pavilion, which opened this fall, and love the fashion exhibit on the eastern side of the building. Also, for photography fans, the William Eggleston is not to be missed (and closes in January). But a brand new show about a fabled kingdom in India is particularly beautiful;
    India's Fabled City: The Art of Courtly Lucknow opens next week - check out the gift shop for sumptuous holiday treats!
  • Website, Hours and parking: Click here for a link to the Korean Art at LACMA. The museum is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursdat. 12:00 -8:00 PM; Friday 12:00 -9:00 PM; Saturday and Sunday 11:00 AM - 8:00 PM. Museum is closed Wednesdays. Parking behind the museum, or on the street, but watch for restrictions.
  • Check out a few more galleries: We decided to roam through more of LACMA's offerings while we were there, and we're so glad we took the extra time! We focused on the Art of the Americas gallery, especially on the modern art section. We particularly loved David Hockney's huge painting "Mulholland Drive" (over 38 feet long!). We sometimes drive on Mulholland Drive (the road, not the painting!) and had fun noticing the way the artist captured details like how you sometimes only see the roofs of houses built on the side of the hills. We also loved the Arts & Crafts furniture in the same gallery.
  • Don't touch! There are museum guards in every room to make sure you keep your hands off the artwork, but sometimes little hands just want to reach out and see what something feels like. Make sure your kids know what it means to be on "museum behavior"!
  • Stop at the Gift Store. Museum stores have some of the best gifts we know, and the LACMA gift store is no exception. If you're looking for holiday or birthday presents, here's where you'll find something creative, unique, and inspirational. We particularly loved a "Pat the Bunny" style board book for babies based on Van Gogh's artwork. Also, the museum is reproducing their netsuke, and adore these dragons and this tiger.

Our Tips for Extending this Adventure:

  • Where to Eat: LACMA is near Koreatown, so if you want to extend the theme of your adventure, travel a bit east to visit Seongbukdong, Ham Ji Park, or Chunju Han-Il Kwan, all of which are near each other on 6th Street near Vermont Blvd. If you're feeling like treating yourself and your kids' tastes are more sophisticated, consider stopping at LACMA's Pentimento restaurant, in the same building as the Korean Art exhibits, for a roasted beet salad or some eggplant rigatoni. As for us, we went just down the street to Yuko Kitchen at 5484 Wilshire (though actually the entrance is on Dunsmuir), where we enjoyed chicken teriyaki bowls, fabulously refreshing mint lemonade, and green tea cream puffs.
  • Learning about Korean Food:  Here is a neat article called Koren Food 101 and, click here for a recent article in LA Weekly.
  • Contemporary Korean Ceramics at the Fowler: In town until February, five current artists from Korea who work in ceramics. Beautiful design in the ancient tradition - click here for more information, including programming for kids.

Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.

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