Kintsugi, art and life

I wrote a column about my collection of cracked and chipped blue and white china thirty years ago. Some people received the idea of a collection of cracked china with derision and laughter… something cracked or chipped had lost its value, usefulness and good looks was the unspoken message, or I must be too poor to have such a pointless collection instead of perfect objects.

Undeterred, in the years since, I’ve saved shattered fragments of blue and white china when I’ve dropped or broken something, intending to stick them all together in a splendid mould and make a bird bath. I still have all the bits … but though the spirit has been willing, the body has been weak, alas.

So when a few weeks ago a possum knocked a precious piece of pottery off the bird table I was heart-broken. It was a large platter given to me by its maker, a potter of some renown, whose pieces now on sale in the national museum cost more than I could ever have dreamed.

But my platter came into my hands over thirty years ago when I used to take my daughter for piano lessons with a beautiful woman who played the cello in the city orchestra and taught the piano. While my daughter tackled the music of civilisation’s finest composers, I whiled away the time chatting to her teacher’s husband, the potter, admiring his work which was all around and even then, out of my reach to afford.

They lived in an enchanting house he had built himself, and where in the romantic rambling garden black and white speckly bantam hens roamed, kicking up the flower beds with their stubby tufted legs and fearsome claws. One day the potter gave me one of his platters and a few months later by chance, another came into my hands.

I’ve always treasured them, and since I love using beautiful things for mundane purposes have always used them as bird baths. Now in our forest, I use them as bird tables for bird seed, balanced on pedestals made from other treasured ceramics. A possum must have clambered up and knocked the platter off. It had broken into three pieces. I found it when I awoke and got up to fill it with bird seed and scatter seed on the ground for our visiting quails.

Going back to bed with my early morning tea I brooded over this unexpected event, and idly let my mind roam over the five hundred-year-old Japanese art of kintsugi, when cracks or breaks in a piece of pottery or porcelain are pieced together again with glue and gold… the name means golden repairs. They become so beautiful that some pieces have been broken deliberately in order to restore them with veins of gold.

Mentioning this to my love, he immediately Googled, and over the weeks he mastered the technique, and the platter was returned to me on Christmas Day with beautiful veins of gold now holding the broken pieces together… the platter is even more beautiful than before… which is the idea … this exquisite art form has developed to become part of the Japanese philosophy of life… where respecting the past with ‘awe and reverence’ adds to the beauty of the object. It is not seen as flawed or broken, but as re-stored… not to wholeness, but to a beauty reflecting life, its impermanence and poignancy.

Since discovering the concept of kintsugi I’ve thought how though it is an old instinct brought to perfection by Japanese craftsmen, it’s also been used by so many others for so many centuries … I thought of the ancient ruined monasteries scattered around England, dissolved by Henry VIII in the 1530’s in order to enrich himself and turfing out the monks, leaving them homeless and destitute.

Local people were the ones who ruined those abandoned monasteries, dismantling exquisite abbeys, priories and friaries, and using the stones to build or enrich their own homes. Even in this day and age, I have stopped the car in a muddy lane in Cumberland to exclaim over a carved Gothic window blocked up to make part of the wall in a rough stone barn – relic of a local monastery.

I used to walk in a Devon village where the red post box was set into the thick wall of a house rising straight out of the street, which would once have been a cart-track, and next to it in the wall was a small beautifully carved blocked up window from another medieval building. These small architectural gems ennobled the old stone walls they were set in – another Japanese concept – ‘wabi sabi ‘– finding beauty in old or broken things

Shakespeare found beauty in old things, and using the principles of kintsugi, rewrote the ancient legends he had learned in his classical education at Stratford Grammar School, re-creating and transforming the stories of Anthony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar or Troilus and Cressida – to name a few – into enduring works of art.

Not sublime works of art, but definitely kintsugi, are the pre-loved clothes – as they’re sometimes called – which a friend finds. By changing the buttons, adding a trimming, altering the neckline, edging hemlines or cuffs with contrasting fabric she turns each found item into an enviable work of art as well as a desirable item of clothing.

And there’s something touching and very sweet about the darns or patches in a piece of old linen, or a carefully repaired scrap of precious old lace. I love the chips and worn places on old painted furniture and the scratches on the polished wood of an antique table, or the kicked legs of a well-used chair.

These are the scars of a life well lived, and to iron them out, re-paint, sand them away and restore them to what is so often wrongly called ‘their former glory,’ chills my heart.  I know this means their honourable scars have been destroyed, and their character obliterated. In trying to make things look as good as new we are not honouring their past… the spirit of kintsugi.

When we were told on our personal growth courses to turn sour milk into yogurt, this was the same thing, re-creating and restoring the broken, cracked or scratched parts of our lives, and using them to teach us strength, compassion, insight. Acknowledging the hard places and tough times we had come through, and the buried pain, we were able then to see how they had shaped us.

We learned to face these times with ‘awe and reverence’, and with gratitude too, since without these scars, we would not be the people we had become. Our lives regained both magic and poignancy as we learned to see the mysterious patterns of events which we had endured and previously dismissed or de-valued.

Patterns of pain, loss, anger or despair, once recognised, became our golden repairs, our kintsugi, which enriched us and gave us a sense of the beauty of our lives. The cracks of character and kindness round our mouths, the lines of laughter softening our eyes, the deep furrows of thought and intellect above our brows became testimony to strength of character, to acceptance of the challenges faced, and rejection of bitterness or resistance.

Maybe this is why I find the faces of celebrities who have had a face lift or a botox injection rather sad… they are not honouring the medals earned by a well-lived life.

The most precious example of kintsugi in this place where we live is a diver’s rusty old tank, found while we scoured a demolition yard for re-cycled goodies. It was brought joyfully home, carefully cut in two, sanded, gently polished and re-painted, so it is a dull antique grey, with a few antique coins stuck to the circumference.

It’s mounted at the bottom of our drive with a striker made from an old fishing weight attached to a handle of weathered wood sitting by it. When visitors arrive, they ring the bell to tell us they’re here. Every day at dawn, and in the gloaming we ring our bell in gratitude. It reminds us that life is precious. And so we honour life.

Food for threadbare gourmets

We always used to have goose at Christmas when I was a child, but on the one occasion we had turkey I remember my father saying he wasn’t going to eat cold turkey or turkey sandwiches for the next week. So he devised a rechauffe of turkey eaten on rice.

Faced with lots of left-over turkey this year, I decided to follow his example. I had saved all the turkey juices, so after frying mushrooms and chopped bacon in butter, I stirred in a table spoon of flour to thicken the mixture and added the turkey juices. When this had thickened, I added chopped turkey and a little cream, salt and pepper, nutmeg to taste, and a small chicken bouillon cube.

Served on boiled rice, with peas, chopped parsley and butter stirred through, it was much better than cold turkey sandwiches!

Food for Thought

The self-actualising person is not a normal person with something added, but a normal person with nothing taken away.         Abraham Maslow

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25 Comments

Filed under birds, cookery/recipes, culture, food, great days, happiness, history, kindness intelligence, life/style, love, philosophy, self knowledge, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, uncategorised, Uncategorized

25 responses to “Kintsugi, art and life

  1. Dearest Valerie,

    It has been too long since I last commented on one of your delightful posts. Your words are like the note of the bell in your drive, moving out in waves from the moment you set them to paper, and sounding forever after in our memories. Lovely to hear, lovely to read and lovely to be ringing with you.

    That you for writing once more.

    Yours, listening,

    Douglas

    Liked by 5 people

  2. I like that, Valerie: valuing the repairs. 😉 xoM

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kintsugi is a beautiful way of repairing what is scarred. I suppose this is what needs to be done with memories as well. Thank you Valerie for this thoughtful post!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dear Neelima, good to hear from you, and thank you for your thoughtful post.. yes, this is what I felt we needed to do when I referred to turning the misery of sour memories ( milk) into yogurt…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. When I first learned of wabi-sabi it rang so true. I knew it was at the heart of what I search for when taking photographs. In a gallery exhibition a few months ago I saw something of Kintsugi and thought it was gorgeous. I wonder if that is what I’ve been waiting to do with the pieces of broken pottery and plates in my cupboard! I so agree with you about how sad it is to see people trying to hide the etching of life in their faces, too. Beautiful post Valerie.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dear Valerie,

    I first learned of Kintsugi last summer at a Haiku workshop. It does put a new spin on things, particularly in our throw-away society.
    As for the wave of plastic surgery and botox amongst celebrities, I find it disturbing. While it might look ‘nice’ on a youthful face, it tends to become a garish mask as that face ages. We miss the beauty of experience and wisdom that time etches into a countenance, don’t we?
    Lovely piece.

    Shalom,

    Rochelle

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Rochelle,
      lovely to hear from you, and thank you… I’ve been reading with great pleasure your blog on Charlotte’s Web, and how amazing about the earlier book being banned…you had so many hundreds of comments that I gave up trying to get through and tell you here instead !!!!
      I recognised the evocative snowy photo which you sent me in a letter a couple of years ago !!!
      Love valerie

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dear Valerie,

        Friday Fictioneers seems to ebb and flow. That was one week it flowed. 😉 I’m happy to know that you read my blog from time to time. It shortens the distance, doesn’t it?
        The neighbors across the street have moved the horses so we no longer get to enjoy them.
        Thank you.
        Rochelle

        Like

  7. snoek@xtra.co.nz

    Thankyou so much for sharing your writing  : )I have only recently ‘rediscovered’ you, havingremembered you from the 1970s (in my schooldays)I enjoyed your writing them, & appreciate it evenmore now. I even read it to my husband, & heactually listens – rather than walking away ashe normally would!Just wanted you to know you are beingappreciated,- DR

    Like

    • Dear DR, how very nice to receive a comment from an old reader ( don’t mean old – former !).
      Thank you, it’s very much appreciated. I love the idea of you reading the blog to your husband… that really is appreciation. Thank you so much,
      Very best wishes,
      Valerie

      Like

  8. Oh Valerie, this is my third time reading your words. A perfect way to begin a fresh New Year. I am having my morning coffee at our local Starbucks. I just finished reading your post to my husband and I’m certain that the people sitting next to me were listening in. Your gift of words is a welcome respite in a world that applauds to perfect, gives reverence to the “beautiful,” and fears the aging process. Just recently I embraced my natural hair colour. White and gold make an amazing duet. Happy New Year!! The adventure continues, the joy of friendships endure. Many hugs and lots of love.

    Like

    • Dearest Rebecca,
      I always love to read your beautiful comments. Your sensitive intelligent appreciation is so valuable to me… and I Love the idea of you reading the blog to your husband over coffee..
      I no longer have your address as I lost everything in the Great Meltdown of my old computer, including too, all the blogs I follow. I have tried to get back to yours, but seem to only get as far as April last year… did you stop blogging too, or am I going to the wrong place? I loved the blogs I managed to read, so thoughtful and inspiring, and as with all good writing, your blogs fired me up with ideas of my own…Lovely to be back in touch,
      Love Valerie

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I love old things also. Even old and broken things. Like you a feel sorry for those who feel they MUST do something to maintain their youth…age is gift. A gift I treasure! And even at my advanced age I find there is so many things I am still interested in, so many things I want to experience.

    Thank you so much for this lovely insightful post!

    Linda

    Like

  10. Your posts are so thoughtful, Valerie. Although I’m not much of a collector of anything, I appreciate the reasons why people collect antiques—especially after the way you write about these old, precious odd bits of history. 🙂

    Like

    • Lorna, thank you so much for your lovely comment… I actually wish I didn’t collect anything, but somehow things accrue !!!! and then they have to be looked after,,. anyway, so good to hear from you, and I hope you are keeping well and your energy levels keeping well too…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, Valerie. I’m doing pretty well these days. I love the Pacific NW and I’m doing some book editing which keeps me quite busy. That’s why I’m not around WP as often as I used to be! 🙂

        Like

  11. Pingback: Sheafferuede – Books, Films & Art, Plus a Bit of Life I've Squeezed In

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