Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Grand Day Out

Yesterday I went down to Washington D.C. to see a very small exhibit called Golden Seams at the Freer Gallery of Art. The Japanese, of course, have an art of repairing ceramics. I admire how the Japanese culture respects art so much that everything can be done to such a degree and with such beauty that it becomes an art...

When a bowl would break in ancient China, there was a long standing tradition to staple the pot back together (see picture). In Japan, they took an ancient tradition of using plant resin/lacquer to fill the seams and gave it a little oomph by adding gold dust or silver dust to the lacquer! The result is a bowl that has beautiful golden streams splintering through the clay body. They took what naturally occurred and enhanced it rather than trying to hide it.

The Freer's exhibit told of rulers who had a bowl or a dish (most likely made by the royal potter or a gift from a distinguished artisan) that was broken by a clumsy servant and was not to be thrown out. They wanted that bowl, not a replacement. Sometimes there were larger chunks missing or pieces that were broken and too small to replace. In those cases, the lacquer was used to fill a larger section of the broken pot. On these pots there were large swatches of the gold, sometimes imprinted with a subtle design of some sort (florals, etc.). Oh, the detail!

Pottery from Japan, China, Korea, and Vietnam was shipped to and fro and the other countries picked up on Japan's technique. There were examples of these repairs from all four countries.
The technique became so popular that some people started to break their pots on purpose! Broken but beautiful...

I thought it was a little ironic that this poem (done in Japanese lettering) was on a hanging at the exhibit where the thing that is holding a pot's life together does not vanish at all, but stands out:

Like the dew
That clings for life
On hare's foot fern
So I, too, rely on you,
Though I may vanish --Fujuwara Teika

Any ideas?


  1. I think your comment about the thing itself being of value has been utterly lost in today's culture. Everything is replaceable, and most of the time it is made to be replaced! Pottery is such an important dam in the stream of the disposable aesthetic.

    Maybe we should create an instillation with pottery actually forming a dam somewhere? christo watch out!

  2. I'm so glad you picked up on that. I decided not to launch into further thoughts on valuing a piece in particular so I'm glad you highlighted my little hint there! I would like to read more about that...

    And does that mean I'm sort of like a beaver? weird...

  3. Also, what a redemption story! "Broken but beautiful" seems to me an excellent metaphor for the Christian in this world--a reminder even before we receive new bodies in the new heaven and earth, God is remaking our jars of clay to show the beauty of being broken--the beauty of His marvelous repair work and the assurance that the breaking was not for nothing.