Funny, the things that bring people–and sometimes, things–together over time and distance. A friend, Matthew, had broken his favorite tea mug and was upset over the loss of the vessel that fit his hand so well. “The moment I picked up that little mug in the local Goodwill, it felt perfect in my hand. The bumpy smoothness of the ribbing, the heaviness of the glass… holding it just made me happy,” he said.
“There are very few objects in my life that I feel any real attachment to, but I definitely felt a little pang in my heart that evening when, pouring the boiling water into the mug for my tea, it instantly shattered into pieces.” He took a memorial photo of the broken pieces and posted it to Facebook, then buried the pieces in the kitchen trash. Until I saw the photo on Facebook a few minutes later and wrote to him.
“Matthew, I’m learning a repair process that is kintsugi-like. I’m no master, but would you allow me to try to put your glass tea mug back together?” I asked.
I’ve been trying to teach myself kintsugi, a Japanese repair method often made with gold that recognizes–indeed, highlights the breaks and reveals the beauty of imperfection. Kintsugi is aligned with of wabi-sabi, the Japanese aesthetic centered around three principles: impermanence, imperfection and incompleteness.
“Japanese aesthetics values marks of wear by the use of an object.
This can be seen as a rationale for keeping an object
around even after it has broken and
as a justification of kintsugi itself,
highlighting the cracks and repairs as simply an event in the life
of an object rather than allowing its service to end
at the time of its damage or breakage.”–– Pui Ying Kwan
In my attempt to learn more without going to Japan, I tried to check books out of the library on how to make kintsugi repairs, but the waiting list to check out the books was 17 people long. The kintsugi books I found on Amazon were focused more on wabi-sabi philosophy, life-coaching, and even cooking centered, rather than on how to actually make the kintsugi repairs. I tried YouTube and found a fast-talking (and really cute) French fellow who was making food-safe repairs, and I watched him over and over, trying to extract the specifics of what kind of glue/epoxy to use, and what to use if you weren’t using actual gold to make the repairs.
Once Matthew’s broken mug arrived, I unpacked it and spent time with the pieces, trying to “feel” if they wanted to come back together, if they WOULD come back together, and what they would look like together. The mug felt like it had broken cleanly and that it retained the energy of being whole. The pieces fit pretty cleanly back together when I’d hold them in place, so I knew not much of the original mug had been lost in the breaking.
Although I could clearly envision how I wanted the mug to look when repaired: as though it were soldered with a thin seam of liquid-looking cool gold, I had no idea how to make happen what was in my mind’s eye. How could I get the pieces to adhere solidly enough to hold tea? How could I get the clear, food-safe epoxy I was going to use to turn to gold?
I was going to have to proceed, and learn as I went.
“… The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible,
could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering
to which ceramic ware too is subject.”— Christy Bartlett
I began by gathering supplies: fine sandpaper, Art Resin, gold powder, plastic measuring cups in which to mix the resin, hardener, and gold powder, some wooden craft sticks for mixing, and a thick rubber band to hold the mug in place as two glued sections set together. And then I began the work.
But things didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. I’m not 100% sure I mixed the resin and hardener to the EXACT same proportions as specified, because when I painted the resin on to the surfaces to be melded together (even waiting an hour before putting the pieces together), it felt too liquid and not tacky enough. I also had thought the gold powder would mix into the resin super well and would produce a thick, tacky gold adhesive; instead, the powder was more like a suspension of little gold dust flakes in the clear resin.
Because the resin and hardener never got solid and tacky enough, the adhesive ran out from either side of the breaks and sort of pooled, and looked very sloppy. After everything eventually set, I tried to shave off the excess with an Xacto blade to little success. Too much of the resin is spread out on the bottom and inside of the mug.
Not happy with the “gold” of the resin, I decided to sand down the repairs on the outside of the mug and to paint over the repairs with antique gold paint. This rendered the mug unsafe for food usage, but I felt that it was the best decision at that point.
The mug can now be held, can be observed, can hold water and flowers. But it did not return to its pre-breakage state. It didn’t even turn into my dream image. The mug isn’t what it used to be; it is something else, an evolution grown from a catastrophic, violent shift of plate tectonics.
Although I wasn’t able to return Matthew’s mug to him in a drinkable form, I hope he’ll be pleased that the mug taught me a lot (he is even more into brain-expansion than I am).
Another big plus was the sweet experience I had holding the pieces of the mug and feeling a renewed connection to Matthew’s happy, compassionate energy even though he lives in California and we haven’t seen each other for over 27 years.
Working with the mug, I learned that I ought to have let it tell me how it wanted to go back together, rather than ME deciding what I wanted it to look like. I also realize that if I am to continue kintsugi repairs using the Art Resin, I *HAVE* to follow their directions as precisely as possible. Like: measuring accurately, mixing for as long as the directions say to mix things. And, if I want to keep going with the repairs, I ought to get the actual gold powder from Japan, and the black lacquer traditionally used.
Most of all, I need to accept, embrace and be at peace with imperfection, impermanence, and incompleteness. Accept. Accept. Accept.
“Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”— Richard Powell