Kintsugi is the traditional Japanese art of repairing damaged pots with gold.
I am surprised and delighted to find out that there will be a kintsugi workshop held here in the next 2 days. Kintsugi is the ancient technique of repairing old broken porcelain pots with gold and lacquer. It is astonishingly beautiful where it is done well and I have often wondered how it was done. In fact, just before we left Australia to come on this trip, we had a wood kiln firing and I had 2 nice pots with cracks in them. I decided to repair them as best I could, using araldite and gold leaf. As I didn’t know any better. I did a rather clumsy repair with the two-part resin bond which worked out sort of OK and then ordered a packet of gold leaf. The gold leaf only arrived in the post one day before we left. I was so busy packing that I didn’t have time to open the letter. It is sitting waiting for me to return so as to finish the job.
I have always admired pots with chips and cracks that had been repaired with lacquer and gold. It shows such respect for a treasured object. The philosophy of kintsugi is based in the honour that is shown to objects, everyday objects and the respect shown to things that are old or even damaged. It is linked to the idea of wabi-sabi in Japanese Zen Buddhist practice. A beautiful thing that is broken in some way is still a beautiful thing, just as it always was. Being shown the respect of a tasteful and respectful repair, makes it even more beautiful.
A beautiful thing that is broken is not necessarily rubbish, but something worth showing respect to and honouring by giving it a new life as an even more beautiful repaired object.
Years ago, I was told of a story of a Japanese shogun that had a very valuable Chinese tea bowl, which got broken. He loved that bowl and sent it back to China to be repaired. It was returned with a lot of metal staples holding the parts together. He was bitterly disappointed and asked someone to invent a method of repairing his cherished bowl in a more elegant way.
Although it was developed in Japan for the repair of valuable tea ceremony objects, kintsugi has found favour all around the South East Asian area over time.
I spend 2 days in an intensive workshop with the local Kintsugi Master. I take along some cheap, cracked and chipped pots that I found in the rubbish pile at the workshop here.
First, we learn how to clean the pot, prepare the surface, repair the crack with the special bonding agent and then leave it to set overnight. Once the repair is secure, for big cracks or for pots that are broken into many pieces, or for pots with small pieces missing the procedure takes longer, as the missing parts need to be filled and worked up, back to the original contour. This can take many days for a big job, as there is so much drying time between layers.
On the second day I learn how clean and prepare the surface again so as to accept the lacquer. A red lacquer is used to build the surface of the repair, as gold reflects well off a red background. Once this part is completed satisfactorily and the lacquer is ‘going off’ and getting ‘tacky’. The gold is applied so that it will stick to the prepared surface. This is then left to dry well before burnishing. We don’t manage to finish all our pieces in the 2 days. I will return later to collect my dried and stabilised pieces. I manage to get one simple one completed and take home with me. It’s a really great experience and couldn’t have come a better time for me. I’m cleaned and prepared and ready to be filled with Kinsugi information. I can’t wait to get home to try it out on my own pots.
A repair done on a large, chipped antique porcelain bowl by the master using both gold and platinum.