Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken items such as pottery or glass with lacquer mixed with gold or silver.
By taking broken pieces, you can mend the item by piecing it back together and making it whole again. The most important distinction that sets kintsugi aside is that the final product does not attempt to hide the breakage but instead embrace it. The repair highlights its once broken seams and becomes a part of the object's history. This artistic approach to restoration is heavily linked with zen Buddhism philosophies and wabi-sabi, which teaches us to appreciate life's transience and imperfections. More than just a method of repair, kintsugi teaches us to embrace the cracks of life.
As acclaimed writer Penny Reid once put it - "A break is something to remember, something of value, a way to make the piece more beautiful, rather than something to disguise. They use gold, not invisible superglue because mistakes shouldn't be considered ugly."
Lacquerware has a long history in japan, intertwined with the rituals of tea and home.These ceramics were often decorated with beautiful motifs, referred to as maki-e. This process used golden or silver powder to create mesmerising designs. At some point, at least as far back as the 15th century, it is thought that artisans in Japan used maki-e as a way to repair ceramics. Thus kintsugi was born and soon spread to China, Vietnam and Korea.
Many fascinating tales illustrate the importance of kintsugi, like the Shogun's tale and the tea bowl, which he so dearly loved. After breaking it, he sent it to artisans in China for repair, only to be horrified that it has been stapled back together with metal pieces. This led him to seek help from Japanese artisans to find a more visually pleasing way to fix the bowl.
Another story tells of a zen master travelling through Japan. He is invited to a gathering where the host attempts to impress him with an expensive tea jar he had recently acquired in China. Much to the host's dismay, the zen master takes no notice and is more enthralled by a branch swaying in the wind outside. Once the zen master had left, the host angrily smashed the vase before retiring for the night. The other guest gathered up the pieces and delicately repaired them using kintsugi. The next time the zen master came to visit, the vase immediately caught his eye, and he exclaimed, "now it's magnificent!".
By the 17th century, this practice was all the rage across Japan; during this time, it is said that collectors and warriors alike would purchase bowls and deliberately break them in order to repair them and sell them for a higher profit. In the modern-day, it has solidified itself as an art form, and a means to better understand emotions of loss, damage, repair and rebirth.
This is the most common Kintsugi technique. When mending using the crack approach, minimal lacquer is used and results in elegant golden veins that define the art form.
This technique requires a similarly-shaped piece from another broken object to help patch the item together. It sometimes requires combining two different works into a cohesive product.
Items restored with this method have large sections filled in with epoxy, gold or a gold-lacquer mixture.
Nishikawa Iku of Kitnsugi Oxford offers kintsugi workshops both online and in-person in Oxford. She also carries out repairs for private clients who want a professional touch. You can find kintsugi toolkits on her website and elsewhere online that equip you will all the items required to start mending your item.
Learning how to master kintsugi is relatively straightforward and suitable for most ages. All you require are the tools, a steady hand and an item to repair. Always be wary of sharp edges that may cut you. You can quickly learn the very basics of kintsugi within an hour or two.
Traditional kintsugi materials are food safe and, when done correctly, is watertight. It should be noted that you should never boil liquids in a kintsugi vessel or place them in a dishwasher as this may damage your repair work. We urge you to always confirm that the materials you use are food safe wherever you acquire them from.
Like wabi-sabi, kintsugi teaches us to embrace imperfections and find beauty every step of the way. There is a tendency to believe that if something is broken, it is undesirable or has lost its purpose, but kintsugi teaches us that it is merely part of the journey.
A broken bowl mended without hiding its scars is a message of resilience. It demonstrates that the act of repairing can often bring more value to the object. These teachings can be applied to life, trauma, healing and personal growth. It pushes people to waste not, want not, appreciate life as it is, and that acceptance of change may not be easy, but it sets us free.
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