The kintsugi restoration technique, reported to be discovered in the fifteenth century in Japan, is to repair a broken object by enhancing its scars with real gold powder, instead of trying to hide them. The word kintsugi comes from the Japanese kin (gold) and tsugi (join), and therefore literally means to join with gold. The art of kintsugi is called kintsukuroi meaning “mending with gold”. There are other materials that can be used in this process, but then it is not kin or gold. Wikipedia states ‘as a philosophy, kintsugi treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise’. This is a very elemental aspect in the understanding of Japanese culture and art. This thinking surrounds the ‘tea ceremony’ introduced from China in the 1600’s, developed into an art-form and aesthetic associated with the understatement that we think of associated with Japanese art versus the bright colors, busy patterns and large designs of Chinese art.
In my long career of Asian art, I have admired but never sought after, kintsugi repair. A few months ago, I did, and found a very capable artist in San Francisco. My experience was literally drive-through, never exiting my car for drop off or pick up. I found the artist by searching online and reading where they studied. We exchanged messages and photos of my property and I confidently left my bottle with the forty-looking, closely shaven fellow having no clear understanding of what a complicated process it was.
I bought the https://www.facebook.com/cynthia.shaver.90 above pictured Japanese, early 17th c, porcelain 5” white bottle, one of a pair, in a picturesque town on Lake Echigo on the Honshu Island of Japan, in 1978. I was a dealer of antique Japanese textiles and baskets with a showroom in the Galleria Design Center area of San Francisco. Within a few years of purchase, I had chipped one of the bottles and decided to give the perfect one as a wedding gift. I always loved the bottle and decided it was time to learn about kintsugi repair. Last month, forty years later, I had a kintsugi repair done.
Later that week after dropping my bottle off, I watched several YouTube videos on the technique, some a few minutes and others more than 30 minutes. This investment of time has given me a much deeper appreciation of the technique and of the contemporary art that has developed around it. I learned that this type of repair person must first be someone familiar with lacquer, the material and characteristics. The broken spot first must be filled with a rice paste or ‘glue’ and left to dry. Then this line will be filled in with black lacquer with the tiniest of brushes of a few hairs, set to dry, then red lacquer and left to dry, then sanded and finely dusted with gold. The repair, the gold looks liquid, an illusion, because of the size on the lip. To the touch, it is smooth. This very specialized repair cost me $100.00 (and involved a few weeks of lacquer drying time). The bottle sits on my fireplace mantle like before, but with a value of at least $100.00 whereas before it had no appraisal worth.