Stronger in the Broken Places
(Photo from the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Dang, is that just the saddest thing you ever saw? No symmetry. Muddy. Gapingly broken.
Look a little closer. This modest, misshapen pot bears a scar of pure gold.
In Japan, broken bowls are sometimes repaired with gold lacquer by masters in the art of kintsugi. On occasion, if a shard is missing, the master will create an insanely detailed gold-on-gold flowered piece for a jagged patch. Maybe it shows cherry blossoms, always dying.
Years ago an artist friend told me about this tradition, now that the time is right I can go see 13 precious examples at the Smithsonian Freer Gallery Washington DC. So treasured is this work that the scarred pottery can be worth more than the pristine.
Kintsugi follows the Japanese aesthetic idea of wabi sabi, a big part of the tea ceremony:
Tea-ceremony aesthetics often focused on the beauty in imperfection, Freer Curator of Ceramics Louise Cort explains. “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.”
Talk about “death is the mother of beauty.”
Maybe each of us is an apprentice in kintsugi. How lucky to be learning the skill to restore use to something shattered. To gain the skill to be surprised by, and then to redeem, a creation that was headed for the trash. The bowl pictured above may have been a defect of a bad kiln, rescued by being deliberately smashed and fixed.
Grieving people are both vessel and master-in-training. Go find your lacquer (the one they used is made from a relative of poison ivy). Maybe you can already spot a healing sap or ore through a crack, or you might have to mine deep. I’m sure the kintsugi master relies on others to find the rare ingredients he needs: he probably pays dearly for them.
And imagine how strong that bond of metal is on the fragile clay walls. Isn’t every scar thick, carefully made, a living demonstration of what we’ve been through? Why don’t we treasure each other’s laugh lines?
I feel stronger and more beautiful than ever, inside and out. This new self was forged by motherhood, by loss, by falling on the floor and breaking. And then, with help, I reached into the fire and pulled me out, and used loving, hurting hands and a creative spirit to heal.
* * * Comments * * *