Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Monday, March 11, 2013

Golden joinery

Please tell me if you know the original source for this photo.

Kintsukuroi (金繕い?) is a Japanese technique of repairing broken ceramics with metal lacquer, usually gold or silverKintsugi (金継ぎ?) (Japanesegolden joinery) is the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with a lacquer resin sprinkled with powdered gold (Wikipedia.)

Kintsugi, or restoring with gold, is a grand symbol.

You take a heap of brokenness and repair it with gold, so that visible veins run through a ceramic. The vessel repaired is a wholeness, a completion, redeemed by the gold lacquer binding the pieces like a strong, bright spirit.

Yet the breaks are not forgotten, are not wiped away.

All things are bound into one, the whole and the broken. The object may well be much more beautiful than it was, lifted from the pedestrian and prosaic to the extraordinary.

How infinitely evocative this idea is...

To me the image of the is most fruitful when thinking about two things: stories--I love the kind of story where the worst possible thing happens and yet in the end, the event turns into some kind of blessing, however strange; or the progress of the soul, restored after breakage. The human form has long been seen as a kind of pot, thrown by the master potter from simple clay. The Adam of Genesis bears a name that suggests man, red coloration, making (Akkadian adamu, to make), and earth (Hebrew adamah.)

As a symbol, though, the image of the broken pot joined with gold or silver is both simple and capable of bearing enormous freight. No doubt it means many things to many people.


  1. What a lovely thing this is. I have on been very vaguely aware of Kintsugi, but seeing how beautifully it can be I'm all for it.
    The 'story' of the break is shown and made beautiful in the process.

    A similar technique would be less effective on other artwork (imagine with paintings!) but with pottery and ceramics... it's very effective. The function of a pot is to be a pot, I guess?

    I've really enjoyed this posting, Marly.
    Thank you!

  2. I saw this very image recently with something about the idea that it's more beautiful broken than it was whole. Of course that could just be the internet talking, but I liked the sentiment.

    My father-in-law is an amazing turner of wooden bowls. Some have even coloring, are perfectly smooth, show no obvious imperfections. They're really beautiful. But when the original log was deformed by a burl, the resulting bowl is highly treasured because of its uniqueness, its scars, and the hard work it took the artist to shape it into something useful. Sometimes they leave some bark on as well, which I like best because I imagine it allows the piece of wood to live in two realities at once--its old life in the woods as a tree and its new life with the humans as a vessel.

  3. Paul,

    I like the idea of the "story of the break" shown...


    Yes, and I suppose you can talk about that as telling two stories at once. I like those burled vessels too.

  4. Oh, how lovely and full of past stories retold. So very Japanese in spirit. I love what you wrote about it, Marly.

    I have a couple of broken pottery bowls, pieces still kept in boxes. It would take great skill and patience to put them together, especially with precious gold and so perfectly as this. Far more in the original spirit than using the pieces for a table top or such.

    Robin, there are many woodturners such as you describe here in BC. I've seen those amazing part burl part smooth bowls, objects and even furniture and love them. Have you been the lucky beneficiary of your father-in-law's work?

  5. Marja-Leena, they're starting to appear on every available surface! My favorite is the water oak bowl he made from a massive limb that fell across our driveway at the little farmhouse we rented in South Carolina. (Water oaks tend to fall apart!) We've since moved, but the place was special to us, so the bowl is our natural connection.

  6. marja-leena, I had a huge wonderful tile, very thick, that broke in pieces, and I recycled into the garden. Now wishing it had gold veins!

    Wood-turning seems to have become very popular. Western North Carolina is a traditional crafts area, and there are a good many there, but I even see them around here, in upstate New York. The bowls are beautiful...

    Robin, That water oak bowl sounds like a perfect souvenir of your old house

  7. Robin, yes, a perfect souvenir. How wonderful to find a way to save a piece of something you love and to lucky you to have a family member making them for you.

  8. Thank you, so timely, this reminder of such truth. You write so beautifully of it, and the photo/art delight the eye, the heart, the mind.

  9. Thanks, Chandra--was not surprised by your facebook comments on it, as you have loved putting together the broken things of the world!


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.