Ah, the life of an accident-prone pottery lover. My wife and I have never met a piece of ceramic art that we couldn't find some way to destroy. We also live in an active fault zone--Eureka had a 6.5 earthquake last year that destroyed a lot of our ceramics. We're a mosaic artist's dream.
The Japanese have other ways of dealing with their broken ceramics.....in fact, they've elevated it to a high art. I've known about kintsugi for a long time. It's the art of repairing cracked or broken ceramics, and rather than attempting to hide the mends, the mender accentuates them with real gold or silver. I've seen plenty of images of old master tea bowls over the years, but I never knew exactly what the process was... until now.
My friend Becky just called my attention to the fabulous YouTube video above, which was put up by a Japanese metalsmith/jeweler. Apparently, the process is all based on resins and lacquers that come from trees. The kintsugi artist carefully repairs the broken vessel with a sticky resin that hardens as it dries. The resin can then be sanded and buffed until the crack is almost imperceptible to the touch. After that, the artist takes a lacquer that has been combined with real gold and covers the crack.
This can play out two ways. If you're repairing a stately piece of celadon or other fine porcelain, the craggy gold lines add a wildness and life that the piece didn't necessarily have in the first place. On the other hand, if you're repairing a rustic wood-fired shigaraki teabowl, the gold repairs become little bits of refined order that balance out the wildness of the original form.
When I think of how disposable everything in our culture is, my mind reels at thinking of a process that renders something thought to be useless into a piece of art that is more valuable than the piece was before breaking.
Kintsugi is so important that certain people have been known to intentionally destroy ceramic objects so they can be beautifully repaired. I'm kicking myself that I missed the exhibition that the Freer Gallery at the Smithsonian hosted last year. It was called "Golden Seams: The Japanese Art of Mending Ceramics". The show traced the history of kintsugi to 15th Century Japan, when a prized teabowl that belonged to a nobleman was broken. The teabowl was sent to China, where the finest porcelain wizards in the world plied their craft. The family was shocked when the teabowl came back "repaired" by large metal staples that held the pieces together. This led the Japanese to develop kintsugi within the next half-century.
Kintsugi is a demanding art to learn. It involves hard-to-come-by materials, a steady hand and a lot of patience. If any of you have the ear of the folks who make SuperGlue (or even duct tape), you should plead with them to develop a 21st century equivalent....before the next major earthquake hits my house.
LINK to Freer Gallery of Art Show
LINK to fabulous Washington Post review of the show