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