Kintsugi teaches that broken is still beautiful — and it can transform how we see ourselves – RN
The porcelain swan originally belonging to Claire’s grandmother now has a “golden necklace.” (ABC RN: Hong Jiang)
When Claire Pickard broke her grandmother’s porcelain swan, she couldn’t bear to throw it away.
“It was the only connection to gran I have, other than photos,” she says.
But Claire also didn’t take it to the local repair shop to get it restored.
Instead, she decided to embrace — and even accentuate — the fractures in the porcelain, by filling them with gold.
“It used to be my grandmother’s swan, but now it’s my grandmother’s swan that… has this beautiful golden necklace on,” she says.
The technique Claire used is called kintsugi. Translated as “golden joinery”, it is a traditional Japanese artform dating back 600 years.
Kintsugi is based on the idea that beauty exists in imperfection, and fractures should be accepted as part of an object’s history, rather than disguised.
Claire learned the artform at a small pottery studio in Sydney’s CBD.
The studio’s owner, Jun Morooka, says the first step of any repair is to “check the circumstances” of the break. What does it look like? How is it broken?
Then, a natural lacquer, made from tree resins, is applied between the fracture lines.
The lacquer, which can take up to a week to harden and dry, acts like a glue and holds the fragments together.
Jun repeats this process three times, before carefully applying red paint on top of the fractures lines.
Finally, he lightly sprinkles on a gold powder.
The purpose of the red paint underneath the gold powder is “to make the gold more shiny,” he explains.
Jun uses a thin brush to carefully apply red paint on top of the dried lacquer. (ABC RN: Hong Jiang)
Claire wasn’t repelled at all by the finnicky process.
“It wasn’t just the end result of getting that fixed, but to go and spend the time doing that, filing and gluing,” she explains.
“It’s that mindfulness, that sitting with the piece, and just slowly bringing it back together that I find really lovely.”
More than just pottery
Kintsugi is widely believed to have started in the 15th century, when the military dictator of Japan, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, sent his tea bowl to China for repair.
The bowl returned with ugly metal staples in it, causing Yoshimasa to seek out a more beautiful repair method.
The idea of beauty in imperfection resonates with many people, across times and cultures.
Jun says many of his customers give kintsugi works as gifts — for friends going through a divorce, and family members battling cancer.
He says people tell him they like the philosophy that something that is broken can be reassembled “to be even more beautiful”.
Single mum and business owner Wilhelmina Ford, who runs a blog called Life Reimagined, says the artform can also help parents who “feel stuck”.
Wilhelmina focuses on personal development work to help single parents that “feel stuck”. (Supplied)
“With single parenting — more so with single parenting — I find that a lot of the women that I help, they seem to feel broken and unloved,” she says.
Willhelmina first came across kintsugi when she was searching online for help after she became a single mother.
“I looked for ways to move forward on that new journey,” she says.
“And kintsugi unusually came up as one of the things [associated with] broken and mending and transformation.”
She says the kintsugi philosophy has helped remind her — and other women she’s spoken with — that it’s okay to feel uncertain.
“On the other side of fear is always growth,” Wilhelmina says.
“[Kintsugi is] all about embracing things that are flawed or imperfect, to mend them together so the cracks are more highlighted instead of hidden.
“If you look at every single person who is inspirational, they’ve always had something that they’ve gone through — they’ve made that choice to either fear fear and shrink away, or face [it] and grow.
“I just think as a whole, humans, they’re a living testament to beauty, grace and resilience.”