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Gold and Ceramics

Perfection Through Imperfection


There's a Japanese story of a man who had bought a beautiful new vase, immaculate, created by a master. He wanted to show this piece to his friend after the tea ceremony. But since the vase was so new and immaculate, he was ashamed of presenting it to his friend like this. So he took a brush and dipped it into gold varnish which is used to cover the glue in cracks and fissures in ceramics. He drew a line that looked like a crack in the new vase. Now it was looking old and mended, not perfect any more.

This is how he presented the vase to his friend, who immediately understood the matter. He admired this aged vase and regarded his friend with the highest esteem.

 

Picture 1 

 

The Beauty of Simple Things

 

This tea bowl by the japanese artist HON' AMI KOETSU (1558-1637) is called "Seppo", which means "Snowcapped Mountain". Koetsu is one of the most outstanding artists of the early 17th century. He was famous for his tea aesthetics, landscape gardening, poetry, lacquering and pottery.

 

This very famous tea bowl was broken and was reparied with gold varnish. The cracks in the bowl have been filled with a kind of resin, then lacquered, and covered with gold powder before the lacquer dried. (One can also polish the gold afterwards). This technique is called "kintsugi" or "kin zukuroi", which means "repairing with gold".

 

The repaired bits of the bowl were given a philosophical interpretation of melting snow and streaming water. (The current owner of the bowl is the Hatakeyama Memorial Museum of Fine Art Japan).

 

 

Picture 2 

 

Tea bowl, Chawan - Japan, 9 cm diameter

This tea bowl from the Tokugawa period (1603-1868) is made from stone ware. It too shows the beauty of the ephemeral. On the black glaze, the golden cracks appear like flashes.

Private collection, Munich

 

Picture 3 

 

On this old bamboo vase the cracks have been repaired with gold varnish, which makes it appear even more dignified.

 

Here are some examples of old bonsai pots that have been repaired with gold varnish. Notwithstanding these damages, or even because of the mending, these pots fetched high prices on japanes auctions.

 

Picture 4

Old japanese pot restored with gold varnish
Mended at the right foot and the rim at the top.

 

 

Picture 5

Old japanese pot restored with gold varnish
Mended at the left and right foot.

 

Picture 6

Old japanese pot restored with gold varnish
Restored with gold varnish at the front bottom and the rear rim.

 

Picture 7 

Old japanese pot restored with gold varnish
Restored at the rear rim.

 

 

As a potter, this old mending techniqe impressed me very much, since often bonsai pots would get small cracks during firing or small dents from handling them after the firing. These are cases where such an old mending technique would be very appealing. I talked to Bernd Braun, a friend of mine, about this topic, and we were both very intrigued by it, especially when he mentioned to me that he could also repair them with pure gold!

 

Peter Krebs 

 

 

The following article was written by Bernd Braun after our meeting.


Gold And Ceramics "Restoring with Gold"

Peter Krebs of Herborn, himself a creator of excellent bonsai pots, has written many articles about antique pots and their variety of shapes and colors. These included pots of significant value, which would fetch 5-digit sums at auctions in Japan.

 

Picture 8

Antique pot before restoration, with engobe paintings, ca. 150 years old, YIXING China
From the collection of Paul Lesniewicz.

 

Picture 9

Several pictures of the restoration of this pot. Restoration with gold.
 

 

Picture 10

 

Picture 11

 

Picture 12 

 

I would like to talk about a special topic in this area. Many antique pots are no longer used as plant containers since people fear they could be damaged. They have become collectibles and works of art. It is understandable that extraordinary pots, should they happen to be damaged, would be restored labouriously. In older bonsai books you can find images of pots that have been repaired with gold varnish. This kind of restoration is in line with japanese tradition, which I would like to revive - with a slight twist, which is using pure gold for the restoration.
 

Picture 13

Unglazed pot, ca. 80 years old, YIXING China.
From the collection of Helmut Rüger.

 

Picture 14

Several pictures of the restoration of this pot. Restoration with gold.

 

Picture 15

 

Picture 16

 

First I turned to bonsai enthusiasts who were knowledgeable about pots and also owned antique ones. This already limited the circle of people. First there was Paul Lesniewicz, who owns probably the most significant collection of old pots in Europe, then there was Peter Krebs, who helped me with his vast knowledge about pots, and Mr. Helmut Rüger who also helped me with his expertise. All of the pots shown in this article are from the collections of these experts, published with their kind permission, for which I would like to thank them very much.

 

Picture 17

Glazed pot, ca. 100 years old, FUSAN China
From the collection of Paul Lesniewicz
Restored with pure gold in the right top corner.

 

Picture 18

Glazed pot, ca. 80 years old, FUSAN China.
From the collection of Paul Lesniewicz.
Crack on the front side restored with gold.

 

Picture 19

Another detail of the pot, inner rim mended with gold.


This is how I arrived at specializing in the repair of defects on valuable pots (which need not neccessarily be old). This demonstrates that by correcting a fault you can raise the value of an already extraordinary pot - a fascinating thought. I also realized - an this was confirmed by connoisseurs - that the interest in high-quality pots has increased in the past few years, which is a great thing for the spirit of bonsai. This also lead to an increased interest in repairing pots which are not too badly damaged.

 

 

Picture 20

Glazed pot by Peter Krebs
A crack from firing was mended with gold.

 

Picture 21

Glazed pot by Peter Krebs
After firing in the kiln, the pot showed a crack.
Pot restored and planted.


Mostly the defects are at the upper rim or the feet of a pot, and in the most cases they are rather obvious, so that in order to take the tree to an exhibition, you would need to find a new pot - which can be time consuming - or repair the defect. In the latter case I'll be happy to offer my services.

 

Picture 22

Pot by Peter Krebs, restored with gold at the upper rim.

 

Picture 23

Enlarged detail

 

Picture 24

Restoration of cloud foot.

 

Picture 25

Pot by Peter Krebs, restored with gold.
This pot had a crack from firing which was restored (picture taken from above).

 

 

Picture 26

Picture from below.

 

Picture 27

Pot by Peter Krebs, a cloud foot restored with gold.

 

Picture 28

This pot too was repaired at the rim.


The idea of repairing old pots with gold gave rise to two new genres of new pots. If a new pot by Peter Krebs which is considered otherwise fine has a small defect, it can be corrected with gold (by the way, it's a 750 alloy), resulting in an extraordinary piece.

 

Picture 29

Pot by Peter Krebs, restored with gold.

 

Picture 30

After restoration, this pot has a special charisma.


The second type of pot in the collection "Gold and Ceramics" is a new pot which is decorated unobtrusively with gold, e.g. with flowers, leaves or "bat" patterns. Of course, special wishes can be catered for as well. The result is a very personal pot.

 

 

Picture 31

Pot by Peter Krebs, with a bat motive made of gold.

 

Picture 32

Pot by Peter Krebs, with a bat motive made of gold.

 

Picture 33

  

Bernd Braun

 

Text: Bernd Braun and Peter Krebs

 

Photographs 1-7 Peter Krebs
Photographs 8-33 Bernd Braun und Peter Krebs

 

The Smithsonian Museum, Washington DC is running an exibition on this techniqe called "Gold Seams: The Japanese art of mending Ceramics" (see http://www.asia.si.edu/exhibitions/current/GoldenSeams.htm) through November 9th 2009.


Translation: Stefan Ulrich


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