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Dick Lehman


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Kintsugi: Gold Repair of Ceramic Faults




In 1999 I traveled to Japan to participate in several exhibitions hosted by my dear friend Mr. Shiho Kanzaki.  I arrived with gifts for all the many people that were required to make this amazing opportunity a reality for me.


After I arrived and was unpacking, I discovered that 4 of the side-fired cups that I’d brought as gifts had been broken by the baggage-handling process.  Without a thought I dumped them into the waste basket in my room.  Sometime later that week, someone came to my room and took out the trash.  


After a remarkable 6 weeks in Shigaraki, two exhibitions, travel,  fine food, new friends…my visit came to an end.


As often happens there were some “parting gifts” given by me to my hosts; and some gifts were given to me by my hosts.  Among the parting gifts I received, I discovered the 4 cups….but they were all reassembled and mended with silver.




I was rather astonished, as I’d thought that putting them in the waste basket was the last I’d ever see of them. Mr. Kanzaki laughed, as he noticed my incredulity, and said:  “Now, even better than when you brought them!”  Remarkable:  gifting back to me, the cups I’d brought as gifts…only now more valuable than they originally were.


The Japanese have a long tradition of repairing pots with gold; it’s called “kintsugi” or “kintsukuroi”.  Curtis Benzele tells it this way:  “The story of Kintsugi may have begun in the late 15th century, when the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a damaged Chinese tea bowl back to China to be fixed.  It returned held together with ugly metal staples, launching Japanese craftsmen on a quest for a new form of repair that could make a broken piece look as good as new, or better.  Japanese collectors developed such a taste for kintsugi that some were accused of deliberately breaking prized ceramics, just to have them mended in gold.  


“The term “kintsugi” means ‘golden joinery’ in Japanese and refers to the art of fixing broken ceramics with a lacquer resin made to look like solid gold” (….and often actually using genuine gold powder in the resin).  “Chances are, a vessel fixed by kintsugi will look more gorgeous, and more precious, than before it was fractured.”


Some contend that many Japanese have come to cherish the imperfection of a broken pot repaired in this way….seeing it as a creative addition and/or re-birth to the pot’s life story.   Others say that when something has suffered damage and has a history, it becomes more beautiful.




It is said by some that the real Japanese purist will only use kintsugi to repair a very old and very valuable ceramic work.  However there is a wide spectrum of thought on this point:  many potters from all around the world repair ‘new’ works that come from the kiln with a flaw or crack.  Sometimes the pots are just so convincing that they beg to be repaired and honored, despite the flaw….or perhaps, because of it.


Contemporary potters use lacquer, epoxy, gold dust, mica dust, copper dust, silver dust, gold leaf…just to name a few of the materials of choice for repair.  Historically, I suppose, the “museum quality” repair utilizes real gold in some fashion….although of necessity, it is always infused into some kind of liquid matrix to fill the crack.


It may be that this love of gold repair has led, at least in some indirect fashion, to the use of gold luster as a decorative technique in making new ceramics.


Here is a piece by Glenn Grishkoff, using gold luster as a decorative technique.Image 



Here is a piece of mine utilizing gold luster for decoration.



Don Pilcher completely covered this piece with gold luster for  dramatic effect.




Here are a few more examples of the repair work I have done.


The pot, above was made in Sweden and needed to be repaired as a result of the airlines’ baggage handlers.






A firebox pot that got knicked by the stoked wood, and then stuck to the floor.




This tea bowl came out of the kiln with these cracks that had pulled apart during firing,  and then re-sealed themselves to the bowl, leaving 2 huge gaps in the wall of the pot.




This side-fired wood-fired vase had gotten so hot during firing that the sea shells supporting the sideways pot, actually melted through the wall of the pot.  You can see the gold leaf repair near the center-front of the pot about a fifth of the way up from the bottom.


To see the value of a broken pot helps us to see with new eyes.  We see value where we may only have seen trash or detritus.  Perhaps we are less ruthless with broken things….more gentle with those around us who experience brokenness…..less fearful, more hopeful when we ourselves experience brokenness.


May we all indulge in ‘golden joinery’.




Recently I’ve been “seeing” the figures in my pots in ways that I hadn’t previously noticed.  The gesture, stance, posture of these pots have led me to be more intentional about alterations that suggest more-figurative works….some of them gender specific.
The Singing Sisters in Holiday Regalia
DSC_1334   web
DSC_1346   web
DSC_1340   web
His and hers mugs
Many of the newest works are not really explicity figurative — they just reference stance and posture.  Many, because of their alterations suggest dance/movement/direction.
But occasionally I do return to forms that are mores explicitly gender specific, as with these flattened bottles standing on their “tango skirts”:
DSCF3625 tango dancers flattened bottles
This led me to make some extruded vases (not wheel work, obviously).  I was returning to a way of making that I began many years ago.  But with these “fresh eyes” of mine (read that  however you want….  ;-), I began seeing figures in these as well.
They are not meant to be phallic, but rather to the stance, posture, leaning, bending…..all the contortions that our bodies are capable of:
vase extruded figurative with veg DSC_1394
vases extruded figurative DSCF3586
But this “vamp” in the middle of these next three had me anthropomorphizing them again:
vases extruded figurative DSCF3588And then more explicitly gender references returned:
vases extruede figurative  DSCF3591
None of this is meant to be erotic.  They are the clay equivalents of a figure-drawing class.  It has simply been an exercise of seeing the figure in many of the forms that I have already been making — then pushing them a big more toward the explicitly figurative.
I’ll be teaching a workshop by the above named title** at the Little Pottery Shop on May 17 – 19, 2013 in Frederick MD.  If you are interested in joining in the fun, contact Stephanie Wilhelm at smwceramica@gmail.com  or Tammy Martinez at tmpottery@aol.com.  The workshop will include “how to” instruction and time to try out some new alteration methods and make your own works.  The figurative pots will be part of it, as well as many other wheel-alteration approaches.  Join us if you can.
At the workshop I will also be demonstrating a large variety of wheel-alteration approaches which create pots like this:
stamped rims
bowl rim treatment
textured and stretched bodies
stamped espresso bean espresso cup
espresso bean espresso cup DSC_1304
stamped hosta cup
DSC_1173   web
stamped wildflower cup
DSC_1149   web
stamped sumac texture
stamped surface DSC_1381
stamped fish texture
DSC_1155   web
facetted teapot
DSC_0988   web
altered and stretched
DSC_1277   web
laterally facetted
DSC_1206   web
laterally facetted
DSC_1199   web
DSC_1280   web
laterally double-facetted
v lateral double facetted cups DSC_1397
DSC_3372   WEB
facetted bowl
DSC_3588   web
facetetd bowl
DSC_2976   web
double-facetted cup
DSC_3504   web
altered figurative cup on trifoil foot
DSC_2290     web
lobed and pushed with dancing foot
DSC_2300     web
rope textured and lobed
DSC_2310     web
DSC_2315     web
altered cup with trifoil foot
DSC_2320     web
altered cup with dancing foot
DSC_2340     web
double-facetted cup
DSC_2355     web
facetted cup
DSC_2360     web
altered cup standing on glaze drip
DSC_2386     web
ribbed and lobed cup standing on dancing foot with glaze drip
DSC_2411     web
double-facetted cup with glaze pool foot
DSC_2396     webDSC_2421     web
ribbed, lobed, with push-outs
DSC_2426     web
push-outs and lobed on dancing foot
DSC_2438     web
double facetted
DSC_2456     web
textured, pushed, and lobed
DSC_3572   web
ribbed, pushed and lobed
DSC_3801   web
textured, pushed and lobed
DSC_2786   web
altered vase
DSC_3716   WEB
four-sided vase
vase wood-fire DSC_3274
textured with spiral lobing
DSC_3739   web
ribbed and lobed
DSC_3768   web
flattened bottle
DSC_3876   WEB
flattened bottle
DSC_4030   web
squared vase with dancing rim
DSC_3804   web
squared pouring piece
DSC_3753   web
altered bowl
DSC_3868   WEB
altered bowl
DSC_2120 web
rope-textured, pushed and lobed
DSC_3994   web
pushed and stretched
rope textured
stamped coffee bean “tea/coffee” bowl
altered mug
DSC_2921   web
altered mug
DSC_2939   web
facetted vase
DSC_3061   web
facetted vase
DSC_2898   web
figurative vase
NCECA  proposal C. Hart. DSC_0835
squared teapot
DSC_0968   web
squared vase
DSC_2857   web
squared vase
DSC_2868   web
squared baker made on wheel
So if learning some of these alteration methods interests you, contact Stephanie or Tammy at the email addresses listed above……OR BE IN CONTACT WITH ME TO SPONSOR  A WORKSHOP IN YOUR COMMUNITY
Until next time.

To see all of Dick’s posts, just click on “add a comment” below…… then click “view all posts by Dick Lehman”.


Dick Lehman

WELCOME to my pottery web site, and thank you for your interest in handmade contemporary ceramics.

This web site features a "Ceramics For Sale" page providing options to purchase current examples of my finest exhibition-quality work, including cone 10 gas-fired stoneware and porcelain. Additionally, the Ceramics For Sale link features the best of my wood-fired, saggar-fired (fast-fossils), and side-fired clay art. Enjoy!

A tour of the web site will introduce you to my Elkhart, Indiana (USA) studio where I've worked for the last 30 years, and will offer you a bit more of my story

The writings portion of the site will allow you to read nearly 50 articles that I have authored for international ceramics publications.  The writings will offer you a glimpse of my working methods and techniques, my inspiration and areas of inquiry. The articles highlight my growth, development and evolution, and the effects of international travel (especially Japanese ceramics) upon my work.

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Dick Lehman

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