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Cracks and the Art of Repair

Mar 26, 2012

by Chappell Ellison

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Shanghai is cracking under its own weight. Dozens of quickly-built new skyscrapers have blistered sidewalks and parks with fault lines, sinking the city an average 1.5 centimeters each year. The problem is so severe that city officials have axed many proposed skyscrapers, hoping to prevent additional damage. When seen individually, the cracks are most likely ignored by the average pedestrian, but when viewed together, they reveal a city that is struggling to cope with the speed of its own growth.

City officials repave and patch Shangai’s cracks with asphalt. Though these cracks are haphazardly covered, East Asia has a deep, rich history when it comes to cracks, especially in the arts, where they are valued as an opportunity for creativity.

In fifteenth century Japan, a shogun damaged a precious Chinese bowl, causing cracks to splinter across the small vessel. Fearful of the cracks growing, the shogun took the bowl to a craftsman and asked him to repair it in such a way that it would become more valuable than before. The craftsman filled the cracks with lacquer resin sprinkled with powdered gold. Called kintsugi, “golden joinery” in English translation, the technique became highly desired, and it wasn’t long before cracked and repaired pottery was more valuable than pristine vessels.

Kintsugi continues to fascinate and inspire. “Because the repairs are done with such immaculate craft, and in precious metal, it’s hard to read them as a record of violence and damage,” wrote Blake Gopnik, in his 2009 review of the exhibit “Golden Seams: The Japanese Art of Mending Ceramics,” held at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery. Next to a piece of pottery’s earthen-colored clay, the kintsugi gold cuts through, providing a sporadic action that arrests the eyes. Gopnik describes it as “a tiny moment of free jazz played during a fugue by Bach.” He goes on to report that Japanese collectors were so kintsugi-obsessed that they were often accused of intentionally breaking their pottery just to have it repaired.

In a modernized twist on this tradition, designer Lotte Dekker encourages people to break pottery in her workshops. Dekker has created her own kintsugi-style repair kits containing Bison glue and an inexpensive gold powder (see video below). These kits may not be the real deal, but they encourage artists and non-artists alike to explore the art of repair. Dekker’s technique promotes the creation of new forms, where broken shards of pottery come together to form a new, almost animated shape, similar yet distant from the intact original.

More than just a means of repair, kintsugi promotes a hopeful philosophy; unexpected damage can be an opportunity. For Shanghai, the sidewalk cracks have slowed the rate of construction, leading officials to carefully vet new building proposals. Perhaps now, Shanghai will take a moment to reflect upon the bustling city it’s become. Shanghai may be struggling to cope with the speed of its own growth, but the breaks, bumps and scratches may have the potential to turn into something beautiful and unexpected.

Ceramics and Pottery on Etsy

3 Featured Comments

  • guziks

    Stephanie from Phylogeny said 4 years ago Featured

    I really admire how something once broken can take on new and added value, adding depth to an item's past. Fascinating article.

  • northernzypher

    Erin said 4 years ago Featured

    Makes me think of my own city, Christchurch. With loads of cracks, empty spaces and a city devasted from natural disaster, we are also a city full of hope, optimism, and bright ideas on how to fill these spaces with beauty. We already have a non-profit organization called Gap Filler taking the initiative to fill empty lots with life and love while the city plans for the future. It's lovely to see this sort of thing in the minute detail of china repair. Repairing and rebuilding are acts of love and craftsmanship. It's nice to see them on all scales.

  • AdrienneLojeck

    Adrienne Lojeck from WingsOfClay said 4 years ago Featured

    Interesting, and it also reminds me of another Japanese art form that embraces the "mistake" and the "imperfection" as fertile ground for creativity: the dance form BUTOH. I am currently studying Butoh, and it is a wonderful, challenging Japanese post-modern dance form that involves tuning in to your body's twitches, pains, weaknesses, and imperfections, and translating that into dance. Like the shattered pottery shown above, Butoh draws the viewer in to the strange, alluring beauty of fragile imperfection.

112 comments

  • lizworthy

    Liz Worthy from lizworthy said 4 years ago

    This reminds me a little of "seed bombing" where sidewalk cracks become the home of mini-botanical art installations. I wonder if any of this is happening in Shanghai's sidewalks? http://laughingsquid.com/holes-of-happiness-the-guerrilla-pothole-gardens-of-east-london/

  • uswatsons

    Sylvie Liv from SylvieLiv said 4 years ago

    That is so very neat! Other people's creative thinking is so inspiring, especially when they work with something that would have been useless otherwise! Thank you for sharing this!

  • KaiceJoy

    Kirsti Joy from KaiceJoy said 4 years ago

    Struck by the beauty of turning something broken(pottery) and seemingly useless into something priceless! Thanks for the post!!

  • kh1467

    Kelly from KikuPaper said 4 years ago

    My grandmother had a blue and vase with a "faceted" look to it. An appraiser told us the pattern was known as broken ice which makes sense. - Wonder if this broken ice pattern evolved from this kintsugi technique.

  • maggiesraggedyinn

    Mary Robertson from MaggiesInn said 4 years ago

    Very interesting article.... these blogs spark the imagination and now I am off to find more information on this... thanks!

  • freesoul

    Semira from freesoul said 4 years ago

    Awesome, great way to reuse!

  • misspoppys1

    Marie Allen from misspoppys1 said 4 years ago

    How interesting! what a great idea, esp like the idea that the unexpected throws up new opportunities - thats so true!

  • PoshAvenue

    Jacque from JacqueAnnDecor said 4 years ago

    innovative yet ancient

  • guziks

    Stephanie from Phylogeny said 4 years ago Featured

    I really admire how something once broken can take on new and added value, adding depth to an item's past. Fascinating article.

  • mehndiart09

    Fauzia from mehndiart09 said 4 years ago

    Very nice reminder to hear ---- cracks lead to an opportunity!!! Good message to hear on a Monday!

  • Iammie

    iammie from iammie said 4 years ago

    Cool idea!

  • KMalinka

    Natalia from KMalinkaVintage said 4 years ago

    Great idea!

  • gypsumrose

    Levi Emerson from gypsumrose said 4 years ago

    ohh i love this! very interesting :)

  • EphemeraAndMore

    EphemeraAndMore from EphemeraAndMore said 4 years ago

    Very interesting and inspirational story!

  • slathered

    Sharon Moores from slathered said 4 years ago

    So interesting! And here I've been smashing my broken plates into even smaller bits and making jewelry out of it. How very backward-thinking of me.

  • DecadesOfVintage

    DecadesOfVintage from DecadesOfVintage said 4 years ago

    a great story thanks

  • blainedesign

    Karen Brown from blainedesign said 4 years ago

    That video is the cutest thing ever! ! And the idea of a repaired object having greater value than the original -- that's a beautiful lesson. What a great story. Thanks for this.

  • LaurelCanyonBeads

    LaurelCanyonBeads from LaurelCanyonBeads said 4 years ago

    wow- another interesting story, thanks so much for the varied reporting etsy, you give us something to ponder every day!

  • dottywalker

    Dotty Walker from SewThoughtfulBlanket said 4 years ago

    I love the article. Thanks so much.

  • Linelle10

    Linelle10 from Linelle10 said 4 years ago

    really interesting

  • hawaiigal

    hawaiigal said 4 years ago

    OMG! Good idea.

  • mikiheather
  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat from mazedasastoat said 4 years ago

    So, if I'm cracked I can end up being more valuable & beautiful, even if not more useful? Sounds good to me! :-)

  • JoyousCrafts
  • pamalamb

    pamalamb said 4 years ago

    How can we buy the kit?

  • ginacrg

    ginacrg said 4 years ago

    Thank you! Now repair doesn't have to be perfect & unseen. This is inspiring! I love mazedasastoat's comment, too.

  • Rt9NJvintageFun

    candy donnelly from Rt9NJvintageFun said 4 years ago

    Love this, thank for the info

  • volkerwandering

    Jess from volkerwandering said 4 years ago

    Cute video, I love the song. I like how they repaired the plate, very obvious, but in a neat way!

  • Parachute425

    Terry from Parachute425 said 4 years ago

    I did this several years ago but had no idea it had a name or was an "art". My young daughter bought me a glass picture frame for my birthday with her own money and as she was giving it to me she dropped it and it broke in several pieces. We glued it back together and I traced all the cracks with a silver puff paint adding a few extra "cracks" for balance and design. It still sits on the bookshelf, proudly displaying family photos. Recently my daughter asked - you kept that old thing? To me it's priceless.

  • KKSimpleRegalJewelry

    Krista from TheBeadtriss said 4 years ago

    you always come up with interesting subjects! ~Krista

  • DaisyandFlorrie

    Sue from DaisyandFlorrie said 4 years ago

    Fascinating bit of history and a great "shabby chic" look.

  • peshka

    Peshka from Peshka said 4 years ago

    That is Great!

  • EraPhernaliaVintage

    Cheryl Davis from EraPhernaliaVintage said 4 years ago

    Oh, dear! Another fascinating tangent for me to explore! God I love the Internets! SO much information and me with a hardwired "probing sense of inquiry." (I can NEVER rest!!!)

  • thedots

    Dorothy Aldridge from thedots said 4 years ago

    The Kintsugi technique works best on earthtones, whereas on a white and blue dish, it looks sloppy.

  • ljersey

    Lisa Jersey from JerseyGirlTrinkets said 4 years ago

    Lovely, thanks for sharing!

  • blmcdaniel

    Blake McDaniel from blmcdaniel said 4 years ago

    I actually like how the cracks look on the white plate above. It gives an ancient look.

  • myMountainStudio

    Nikki Weiss from myMountainStudio said 4 years ago

    Quite interesting. Thanks for sharing. :)

  • SamMcCain

    SamMcCain from SamMcCain said 4 years ago

    Sweet and quite beautiful. Thank you.

  • cutoutstar

    Linx Lung said 4 years ago

    I enjoyed your contrast between a Chinese city and Japanese technique. Its funny how those little "useless" art history stories your prof rambles about become rediscovered. While the technique requires much more work and practice to do in a traditional fashion, the starter kit is cute. For people looking for more information and related techniques, here is a good youtube video I stumbled upon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3mZgs0vkDY&feature=player_embedded

  • silversamba

    Alana from silversamba said 4 years ago

    love this post

  • paisleybeading

    LuAnn Poli from PaisleyBeading said 4 years ago

    Loved, loved, loved this article! Thanks! I never knew there was such a thing, and it is great how the technique was duplicated in an inexpensive way. Artistic! I may try it.

  • FullCircleRetro

    Piegota from FullCircleRetro said 4 years ago

    What a simply & great idea..! =)

  • uniquefabricgifts

    Unique Fabric Gifts from uniquefabricgifts said 4 years ago

    Interesting article! Thanks!

  • debbiesharpe1

    Debbie from UpcycledSwag said 4 years ago

    nice thks

  • JanJat

    Catherine from JanJat said 4 years ago

    To think of how many plates, mugs and serving platters have gone in the bin for no reason! For a clumsy, somewhat too-fast-for-your-own-good person (yes, me) this is a fantastic idea and gorgeous too :) Thank you for sharing this lovely technique and including a little history as well!

  • paedrin

    kristy davis said 4 years ago

    elegant yet fun,lovely

  • AtomicAttic

    Miles and Aimee Harrison from AtomicAttic said 4 years ago

    Wish i knew of this when i was 6. Breaking one of my mothers decoration teacups had severe repercussions! Bouncy balls tend to have a mind of their own.

  • AnaBananster

    AnaBananster said 4 years ago

    Does anyone know if this glue is toxic?

  • VeronicaRStudio

    Veronica from VeronicaRussekJoyas said 4 years ago

    Man, makes me wish I kept that celadon vase my dog knocked off the side table while looking through the window to guard our house. That vase was beautiful pottert and broken to shards. It would have looked gorgeous with the gold crack lines!

  • Latrouvaille

    Latrouvaille from Latrouvaille said 4 years ago

    This is full of terrific ideas, some of wehich I am sure to try. Re Shanghai though, it is the biggest city in the world and boasts 6000 sky scrapers, so it is not surprizing that the weight is causing the city to sink. It is also fantastically exciting, gorgeous, efficient and surprizingly clean.

  • collageoscope

    Sonja Smith from collageoscope said 4 years ago

    beautiful!

  • MishaGirl

    Michelle from MishaGirl said 4 years ago

    Fascinating!

  • eastwestcrafts

    Michiko Marshall from eastwestcrafts said 4 years ago

    Reminds me of Duchamp's Large Glass.

  • VortexStudios

    Piro from NamakoStudios said 4 years ago

    It's a pity Shanghai decided to decimate so much of what was fascinating about the city and replace it with monolithic and modern buildings that are just exacerbating the destruction of the joint. This is where the comparison doesn't work. The sinking of Shanghai has come about because they chose NOT to keep the old and repair it beautifully.

  • Stormscapestudio

    Anna Edwards from Stormscapestudio said 4 years ago

    Great to see someone doing a positive spin on a big problem. It's hard to control the damage humans are doing but it sure inspires some beautiful art.

  • atomiclivinhome

    Robin Grattarola from atomiclivinhome said 4 years ago

    LOVE IT!!~ {looks around} ...now, what do I have with cracks in it...?!

  • Imozon

    Imozon said 4 years ago

    Really beautiful article, thank you.

  • DreamsInTexas

    Myranda Escamilla from MyrandaE said 4 years ago

    oooh and I thought mosaic was fun!

  • elleestpetite

    Donna Thai from PetiteCuisine said 4 years ago

    Finding beauty in imperfection, I love it!

  • Waterrose

    Rose Waterrose from Waterrose said 4 years ago

    I knew there was a reason I was keeping that bowl that I broke!

  • lighthousetropical

    lighthousetropical from lighthousetropical said 4 years ago

    Interesting post. It also reminded me of Zhang Yimou's film The Road Home in which an itinerant porcelain repair man (apparently they existed in China) repairs a girl's bowl in a village. Its a beautiful, simple sequence and highlights the care and reuse of everyday, breakable objects. That's whan I first realised china could be "mended".

  • sparrowsalvage

    Sparrow from sparrowsalvage said 4 years ago

    There is a wonderful blog by Andrew Baseman which catalogs his huge collection of mended china through the centuries- there are some jaw-dropping examples of craftsman repair to objects that even in their contemporary days were too precious to throw away. There are a few artists now who work with faults and imperfections in antiques - including me! My jewelry is only the retail face- I also make textiles, assemblage and collage working with damaged antiques, exploring the process exactly described in this article- the process of taking a worthless valuable and making it priceless. I find it interesting that -especially in places such as the US and UK (less so in Australia), an antique's market value can tumble at the show of the slightest crack or scratch. I find especially ironic when there is a whole decor movement devoted to the chippy, faded and worn- even new products are designed to look damaged to fit into it. Curious creatures, we humans. To repair something is to re-incarnate; a new body and a new soul.

  • BurkeHareCo

    Erica from BurkeHareCo said 4 years ago

    Love this!

  • shuqi

    Emily Lim from shuqi said 4 years ago

    broken plate..intereting:)

  • Mandawlfe

    Manda Wolfe from MandasArtStudio said 4 years ago

    isn't it so true that sometimes, something that seems broken is really just an amazing opportunity for something new to transpire. I call them happy mistakes!

  • LittleWrenPottery

    Victoria Baker from LittleWrenPottery said 4 years ago

    Interesting, I'd never heard of this before! I always like the idea though that in Japanese ceramics things are 'fated' to happen. Even imperfections.

  • northernzypher

    Erin said 4 years ago Featured

    Makes me think of my own city, Christchurch. With loads of cracks, empty spaces and a city devasted from natural disaster, we are also a city full of hope, optimism, and bright ideas on how to fill these spaces with beauty. We already have a non-profit organization called Gap Filler taking the initiative to fill empty lots with life and love while the city plans for the future. It's lovely to see this sort of thing in the minute detail of china repair. Repairing and rebuilding are acts of love and craftsmanship. It's nice to see them on all scales.

  • tomsgrossmami
  • torik2009

    Erica from SpectrumCosmetic said 4 years ago

    Great article! Awesome and beautiful way to salvage a loved piece :)

  • esmeraldadesigns

    christina from esmeraldadesigns said 4 years ago

    wow-totally wabi-sabi, the beautiful art of imperfection.

  • 2mwt
  • janicewd

    janicewd from janicewd said 4 years ago

    Interesting! Great to turn something all around and see it in a whole new light.

  • evihan

    Kristin Evihan from evihan said 4 years ago

    soo clever way to repair:-)

  • pengworkshop

    pengworkshop from PengWorkshop said 4 years ago

    Great idea.

  • debbyhillberg

    Debby from DebbysHandmadeGoods said 4 years ago

    I love the article - mended broken people are more loving and valuable as well.

  • adrianaallenllc

    Adriana Allen from adrianaallenllc said 4 years ago

    It is interesting, but somehow it still feels as a violence against space and harmony, and a betrayal of time. That which has been one and complete - is no longer, that which was perfectly harmonized - is no longer, the time continuum has been shattered and what it was - is no longer. Interesting, but not better.

  • AdrienneLojeck

    Adrienne Lojeck from WingsOfClay said 4 years ago Featured

    Interesting, and it also reminds me of another Japanese art form that embraces the "mistake" and the "imperfection" as fertile ground for creativity: the dance form BUTOH. I am currently studying Butoh, and it is a wonderful, challenging Japanese post-modern dance form that involves tuning in to your body's twitches, pains, weaknesses, and imperfections, and translating that into dance. Like the shattered pottery shown above, Butoh draws the viewer in to the strange, alluring beauty of fragile imperfection.

  • shoplivingproof

    livingproof from shoplivingproof said 4 years ago

    well written and interesting article. learning something new everyday.

  • OnlyOriginalsByAJ

    AJ Marsden from OnlyOriginalsByAJ said 4 years ago

    Interesting idea! Thanks for sharing!

  • misponko
  • TheInspiredTrader

    Deb from TheInspiredTrader said 4 years ago

    I love this concept and the post is well done! The Tao states "If you want to become whole, first let yourself become broken". Perfectly imperfect!

  • TheInspiredTrader

    Deb from TheInspiredTrader said 4 years ago

    I love this concept and the post is well written. The Tao states, "If you want to become whole, first let yourself become broken." Acceptance and the concept of imperfect perfection!

  • AntiquesAsh

    Ashley from AntiquesAsh said 4 years ago

    This is really beautiful! I feel like broken items are often discarded without the person thinking of what it took to make that item in the first place. I love that this it taking that into thought and also from then on it will be a personalized item you will have for a long time. It is a great idea and I will be using it.

  • vintagefriends

    Melinda from vintagefriends said 4 years ago

    This is really fascinating and welcome. Having badly fractured my ankle several months ago, with metal hardware now in my leg and long ugly scars on the outside, I'm inching toward the idea of detailing my scars with gold dust.

  • rietakeda

    Rie Takeda from NeoJaponismAtelier said 4 years ago

    Great tip! Yes - Kintsugi plates can be used for very special occasions!!

  • clayguyry

    Ryan Peters from clayguyry said 4 years ago

    I love the attitude of not giving up on a piece of your own work. I am definitely guilty of tossing unwanted pottery vs trying to figure out a solution to retain its beauty. But this gives me hope and a new vision on possible solutions that wont leave me thinking about the wasted time and energy, even though I learn best from my mistakes. Great tip!

  • TailsandSnouts

    Elizabeth from TailsandSnouts said 4 years ago

    Darn, wish I had known about this a few weeks ago when a massive amount of plates broke. So interesting though.

  • AdrienArt

    Adrien Miller from AdrienArt said 4 years ago

    Thanks for the history lesson, I've wondered how that tradition emerged. I've been doing a similar process using epoxy and gold leaf with pieces that crack during the firing like this one http://www.etsy.com/listing/85782750/erotic-art-ceramic-wall-platter-mature

  • BanglewoodSupplies
  • CopperheadCreations

    Sarah from CopperheadCreations said 4 years ago

    Wow! I have a special talent for destroying all of our nice plates, so I wish I'd known about this sooner! :D These look really beautiful when put back together in this way.

  • IvyTurtle

    Rose Marion from HeroineDesigns said 4 years ago

    That is so interesting, I love it! Who would have thought that a broken plate could still have value. Loved this article!

  • lauraprill

    Laura Prill from lauraprill said 4 years ago

    powerful metaphor for life, we're all broken in some way. Seeing those golden repair lines is very moving to me.

  • matildecanepagonzale

    Matilde Cánepa González from matildecanepaArtnow said 4 years ago

    Hello I like your store and how you like me butoh, although I do not, although I practice literally in his metaphor, I love him, and I love you algas.Me match like the taste of the masks that I made time and stoneware and paper mache.Linda your creativity.. Hola me gusta tu tienda y como a ti me gusta el butoh, aunque no lo hago, literalmente aunque creo practicarlo en su metáfora, me fascina verlo,y me encantan las algas.Me gusta coincidir contigo en el gusto por las mascaras que hice hace ya tiempo en gres y papel mache.Linda tu creatividad..

  • matildecanepagonzale

    Matilde Cánepa González from matildecanepaArtnow said 4 years ago

    The cracks are part of my work plástica.Enterarme is a technique that I love applied

  • InspirationAlly

    Clarra Norris from InspirationAlly said 4 years ago

    not my cup of tea

  • AMSkrafts

    AMSkrafts from AMSkrafts said 4 years ago

    Great way to repair and reuse! It's so sad when beautiful ceramics break and must be tossed in the trash. And the use of gold color gives the plates a new look.

  • my2handsstudio

    Donna from my2handsstudio said 4 years ago

    Recycling at it's best!

  • LisasCottage

    LisaSD from LisasCottage said 4 years ago

    I have quite a few broken china and ceramic pieces in a cool metal mid-century cabinet (also saved from the landfill) that I've stashed away waiting for inspiration. Thank you for providing that today. While I know that I can break them and use them for mosaic (in my SPARE time!), this idea is much easier to tackle and finish. I think I have a few that are just perfect for this, thank you!

  • TheMillineryShop

    Marcia Lacher from TheMillineryShop said 4 years ago

    Necessity always was the mother of invention and some are way better than others.

  • bylauragraves

    laura graves from bylauragraves said 4 years ago

    Love it - a great idea.

  • janeeroberti

    Jane E Roberti from janeeroberti said 4 years ago

    Love this tradition, which I was unaware of. It is akin to Japanese principles of "wabi sabi": "[Wabi-sabi] nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect."[3] ^ Powell, Richard R. (2004). Wabi Sabi Simple. Adams Media http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-sabi

  • EnterpriseAmericana

    Enterprise Americana from EnterpriseAmericana said 4 years ago

    Some times when we repair older pieces we avoid trying to hide the repair and let it become part of the history of the piece but this technique is something I'd never heard of before. ...and I like that. Great article.

  • Gabale

    GABALE from Gabale said 4 years ago

    Love the article. The SCAR of the objects makes me think about the story behid it, where , how , who broke it. thanks ! gabriela from Gabale http://gabaleatgabale.blogspot.com/

  • QuirkMuseum

    Michael Quirk from QuirkMuseum said 4 years ago

    This is great! I'm going downstairs right now to find my jar of powdered gold and smash some pottery.

  • yqsl66

    Ada Ada from idajewelry66 said 4 years ago

    Very interesting and inspirational story!Thanks for sharing!

  • GraysonDesigns11

    GraysonDesigns11 from GraysonDesigns11 said 4 years ago

    What a wonderful blog to read! I am always hesitant to toss out broken glassware. My two youngest sons recently broke an old glass bowl we inherited from my husbands grandmother. Now, it painfully sits in pieces on a high shelf in the kitchen. I think some gold seams would fix it right up!

  • oahmed Admin

    Omar Ahmed said 4 years ago

    I like turtles

  • oahmed Admin

    Omar Ahmed said 4 years ago

    I like turtles

  • oahmed Admin

    Omar Ahmed said 4 years ago

    I really like turtles.

  • oahmed Admin

    Omar Ahmed said 4 years ago

    document.write('turtle');

  • casseyshapiro

    Cassey Shapiro said 3 years ago

    Hi all - the kit is now available at Mora Approved if you'd like to take a stab at some Kintsugi repairing yourself! The glue is non-toxic (after two days drying) and it really reinvigorates your broken ceramics! We're a british shop, but we ship to the US for $10. Check it out here! http://bit.ly/VOBsH5 Cassey x

  • aleksbond057

    Oleksandr Bondarchuk from bondceramics said 1 year ago

    It's great. Stylish!

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