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What if instead of throwing broken things away, we would adopt the old Japanese art of mending the broken pieces with gold? Kintsugi is the art of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer, and understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken.

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Kintsugi (金継ぎ) (Japanese: golden joinery) or Kintsukuroi (金繕い) (Japanese: golden repair)  is defined as "to repair with gold". In this tradition, rather than disguising the faulty or broken part, the art restores the broken item by incorporating the damage into the actual aesthetic of it. This is done by using lacquer resin mixed with powdered gold, silver, platinum, copper or bronze, and the result is something more beautiful than the original.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

 

Nanking reticulated basket, c.1750 mended with metal staples. Source: Wikipedia

Nanking reticulated basket, c.1750 mended with metal staples. Image source: Wikipedia

Kintsugi is said to have originated in the 15th century when a Japanese shogun broke a favorite tea bowl and sent it back to China to be fixed. But the repair job, which was done with metal staples - being the standard for repair at that time - detracted from the beauty of the bowl and the shogun was disappointed. Therefore, he enlisted Japanese craftsmen to come up with a more aesthetically pleasing solution, and thus kintsugi was born. Kintsugi became closely associated with ceramics used for Japanese tea ceremonies (chanoyu). While the process is closely associated with Japanese craftsmen, the same technique was applied to ceramic pieces of other origins including China, Vietnam, and Korea.

As a philosophy kintsugi can be seen to have similarities to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which means embracing of the flawed or imperfect. Japanese aesthetics values marks of wear by the use on an object and this can be seen as the rationale for keeping an object around even after it has broken. 

 

Different types of kintsugi. Image source: Google

Different types of kintsugi. Image source: Google

 

Although kintsugi repair makes it appear as though the original piece was mended with gold, the original process is essentially a form of lacquer art. Broken pieces are glued back together using urushi lacquer, derived from the sap of the Chinese lacquer tree. The final layer of urushi is covered with fine gold powder and then burnished. The collection of the sap and processing of the urushi oil is difficult because of its toxicity. Fortunately, once it dries and hardens the toxic effects essentially disappear, making the lacquer ware safe to handle. Today, thanks to modern polymer technology, kintsugi style repair can be accomplished with state of the art materials that are stronger and have greater longevity than the traditional lacquer methodology.

Check out this great video about some of the thoughts surrounding Kintsugi and broken things (and people) in general:

 

There is not too much written about this ancient art, but searching around a bit online, I found Lakeside Pottery, which shows a few different types of kintsugi on their website:

"In addition to the straight gold line along the repair areas, there are other styles of gold repair. If the broken piece is missing a section, it can be repaired with a technique known as makienaoshi. This is where gold replaces the lost section and is decorated with the texture or design complementing the pattern of the item. Another related gold repair is called yobitsugi where ceramic parts from a different and unrelated vessel are glued into the broken or missing area of the restored piece."

 
Kintsugi Makienaoshi style repair wabi-sabi
Kintsugi Makienaoshi style
Kintsugi Yobitsugi style repair
Kintsugi Yobitsugi repair 
Kintsugi using silver color
Kintsugi - silver
learn kintsugi
One of the steps

 

 

Sources: Wikipedia, Google, video from YouTube

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