The Japanese art of holding on to broken porcelain
We all love antiques and for those who are avid collectors, we strive to find beautiful works of art that are in pristine condition. The better the condition an antique is the more valuable. We all know this. However, there is an art, called kintsugi, that is a style of fixing broken porcelain and making it strong and beautiful again.
Ko-imari is a style of porcelain that dates from the 17th century but is still loved in Japan and many places around the world. With porcelain as delicate as this, over the years, it is natural to expect that some plates will be broken. What is interesting about ko-imari is that breakages to a certain extent don’t matter. Of course, the price of the piece will decrease, but its sentimental value might not change. Perhaps this is why the style still proves popular.
There is a specific way of repairing ko-imari, called kintsugi, which involves sealing cracks with lacquer that is then colored with gold or silver dust. It creates an appearance of veins of rare metal running through the porcelain. The result is sometimes more beautiful than the original. The aesthetics can be enjoyed in daily life without too much worry about it wearing out.
There is another reason Japanese people are more relaxed about the aging of antiques; the patina that collects on their surface, the small chips and cracks bring their own joy. Naturally, there is a word for that: wabi-sabi. With its roots in Zen Buddhism, the philosophy is that some things are impermanent, incomplete, and imperfect and there is a joy that comes from observing that decay. Wabi-sabi to me has also to do with a humble value and preciousness that comes from the fact that these things show vulnerability and fragility.
Ko-mari is just one example of the curious and varied ways we treasure old objects. In America, by contrast, many porcelain antiques are found inside glass cabinets, never to be touched. It’s a lovely thing to look at but what is the point in having beautiful things if you can’t use them and touch them and treasure them?
Perhaps we should take a page from the Japan book of life. Use that china that grandmother passed down to you. Even if it’s just for holidays but maybe, take it out for pizza night too. Truly enjoy the antiques that were handed to you. Go to antique stores and buy the mismatched china that they have for sale. It’s old, it’s precious but it is meant to be used and loved. Now more than ever is the time for us to enjoy life. Now that we are home more, it’s time for us to enjoy what is in our home. Be careful, be gracious and enjoy your antiques!