With the help of local artist Heidi Loewen, the mayor of the South Korean city of Icheon applied pressure to a lump of clay atop a spinning pottery wheel.

As Loewen guided Eam Tai-Joon’s hands, pulling gently on the clay, a bowl shape formed and the edges began to fan out like a flower.

Once symmetrical, Tai-Joon softly pressed a “toothy tool” on the exterior of the bowl, moving his hands up and down as the wheel turned, creating a pattern of zig-zagged lines around the surface.

A smile spread across Loewen’s face as she cut away the bowl from the wheel, asking a translator, “How do you say, ‘It’s perfect?’”

“그건 완벽해,” the interpreter replied.

“그건 완벽해,” Loewen repeated, looking up at Tai-Joon, pointing to the bowl.

Tai-Joon is one of several diplomats from Icheon who is in Santa Fe for the 16th annual International Folk Art Market. All participated in an impromptu ceramics workshop at the Heidi Loewen Porcelain gallery earlier this week.

The South Koreans, who arrived in Santa Fe on Wednesday, said attending this weekend’s event can help teach them how to boost tourism for their arts-centric city of 2.6 million residents, as well as foster long-term relationships with creative people from around the world.

During their five-day visit, they said they also hope to discuss the possibility of increasing art exchange programs between Santa Fe and Icheon — sister cities since 2013 and both UNESCO-designated Creative Cities of Crafts and Folk Arts.

“We want to respect the art culture of Santa Fe in itself and for Santa Fe to respect the culture of Icheon in itself,” said Tai-Joon via a translator, noting the goal of an arts exchange is simply for people of different backgrounds to learn from one another.

“Ceramic artists from around the world want to come to Icheon to learn the art of perfect pottery,” said Tai-Joon, noting ceramics first originated in Asia. Since then, he said, people of Icheon have become fascinated with evolution of modern art and western techniques, specifically “how to manipulate art in America.”

But the goal of an exchange is “not to blend” art forms, emphasized Jeffrey Case, education chairman of Santa Fe’s Sister Cities Committee.

“We don’t want sameness,” he added. “We want the differences.”

Because Case said “both countries really have a strong base in ceramics,” several art exchanges have occurred between Santa Fe and Icheon in the past — generally in the form of offering between one to three artists the opportunity to study abroad for about a week. However, Case said he would like the programs to eventually expand beyond ceramics and occur on an annual basis rotating between the two cities.

The benefits of an exchange like this helps people “gain a strong understanding of each other’s cultures. … It makes us realize that we’re all the same,” said Loewen, who was selected by a former Arts Commission executive director to participate alongside sculptor Rose Simpson in a weeklong exchange in Icheon in 2012.

While in South Korea, Loewen said, she learned about the fusion of traditional and contemporary art. She called the exchange “one of the most remarkable, memorable, graceful, delicious experiences of my life,” and said that spending time with the group of diplomats on Thursday, “made me feel like I had just gone right back to South Korea. It was so magical.”

Because of the impacts of forming these types of relationships, Case said he hopes to collaborate with the Rotary Club of Santa Fe to eventually create a “sort of friendship exchange” in addition to the arts program. He said he met with the club to brainstorm first steps.

For officials of Icheon, one hope is that through forming these international bonds, they can boost their city’s tourism.

A big part of visiting the Folk Art Market, Tai-Joon said, is to learn how the Folk Art Market operates, so that one day Icheon can have a high-caliber arts event of its own.

“We want to bring what we learn home … to attract foreigners to Icheon,” he said.


Olivia Harlow is digital enterprise producer for Santa Fe New Mexican