Monday, November 30, 2009


Per "Inside Smithsonian Research" Newsletter (Winter 2009):

Nothing could be further removed from America’s grab ’n go coffee clutter than the centuries-old ceramic tea bowls now on view in a quiet corner of the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art in the exhibit “Golden Seams: The Japanese Art of Mending Ceramics.” Dating back 300 years or more, these simple vessels have endured from a time when tea, not coffee, was king, and drinking it was regarded as a meditative and spiritual ritual.

Tea-ceremony aesthetics focused on the beauty in imperfection (wabi-sabi). “Even in tea bowls that were not repaired, people came to look for the slight idiosyncrasies, even flaws, in the glaze that made one bowl more interesting than another. The context of tea drinking created a moment of awareness of transiency, of the way in which all objects, like all human beings, exist in a fleeting way and are decaying.”

Exactly when golden kintsugi repairs began is unknown. An incident involving an heirloom owned by the shogun (commander) Ashikaga Yoshimasa(1434-1490), however, may have encouraged development of the technique.

Within a century, repairs using lacquer combined with powdered gold or silver became common in Japan. “Sometimes owners even commissioned lavish maki-e, or ‘sprinkled picture’ decoration to replace large fragments,” Cort says. In this practice, artisans replaced a missing fragment of a broken bowl by crafting a new piece with built-up layers of lacquer. Powdered silver and gold were then carefully sprinkled upon the sticky patch in a pictorial design, such as cherry blossoms.

By the 17th century, some tea-ceremony practitioners were even being accused of breaking their tea bowls on purpose, in the hope that kintsugi mends might increase their aesthetic and commercial value.

“Golden Seams: The Japanese Art of Mending Ceramics” is on view in the Freer Gallery of Art through May 10.


Thomas said...

If you like mended ceramics and Kintsugi, check this:

Thomas Bachmann

WabiSabiChic said...

Thank you--What a beautiful exhibition!