Young Mi Kim was born in South Korea in the vicinity of the newly formed border between North and South. Her father, who had trained as an opera singer, was so distressed by the traumatic effects of the war on the people he lived amongst, that he became a pastor and with his wife and three children created a shelter for war orphans and widows. Young Mi grew up in the healing community they created at the foot of the mountains. This community shared its land with displaced farmers to grow the crops that the community ate. The children played with stones, plants, the natural materials they found in the woods around them. Art played an important part in Young Mi’s life as she grew up: many summers were spent climbing the mountains to sketch with an art tutor, and during her youth she was immersed in traditional dance training.
In 1974, once the war orphans were old enough to make their own lives, her father brought his family to New York. Young Mi was twelve, didn’t speak English, and found solace and inspiration in the museums of New York City. She eventually attended the High School of Art and Design and completed her undergraduate work in painting at the prestigious Cooper Union. It was only once she was a mother that, almost by chance, she discovered pottery. She took a few classes and, as she writes, “I felt so drawn to the process, like my body depended on it to quench that thirst. I delved deep into learning all I could about working with clay. Clay is like that, it calls you back to yourself.”
Young Mi now works and teaches from her beautiful studio in Bearsville, and also at the Byrdcliffe Guild in Woodstock NY. Each of her ceramic pieces is one-of-a-kind and slowly, meticulously hand built. She layers strands of clay in a coil, carefully working upward as she discovers the shape. She writes, “In essence, each layer marks time and space. When I hand build my pots, it is a form of meditation. It is my attempt to live in grace: like an open vessel, empty and yet full.” Young Mi is also a gardener, and her time in nature clearly influences her work. Her biomorphic sculptures often resemble flowers, seed pods, fungi and other organic forms.
Her ceramic sculptures are a leap of faith: after the many hours it takes for her to built their delicate shapes, she never knows if they will survive their time in the kiln. Each unique work represents a singular success after much trial and error.