Poignant Repairs

Several weeks ago I wrote about the Japanese art of Kintsugi, the process of repairing damaged ceramics with seams of gold. The idea of a repair transforming an object into something of even greater value has stayed with me. 

Recently, while reading the novel “The Gargoyle Hunters” by John Freeman Gill, I came across a passage that I want to share with you:

…On its white grillwork shelves stood a number of unusual, very old objects. The only thing they seemed to have in common was that every one of them had something wrong with it.

‘I call these Poignant Repairs,’ he said. “They’re antique objects, some of them completely unremarkable to begin with, that broke at some point in the past but whose owners were so fond of them that they went to extraordinary lengths to fix them. In doing that, they transformed the object, by their ingenuity and affection, into something completely new and singular.’” 

Gill then goes on to describe some of these repaired objects – an earthenware pitcher with a broken handle that was replaced with a hand hammered one in tin that even contained a tiny brass plate for the name of the man who made the repair; a glass goblet whose base was replaced with a marble foot; a tortoiseshell comb with a break repaired with small silver reinforcements engraved with fine floral designs. A character in the book goes on to say “The damage was the opportunity, you see. Without damage, there’s no discovery… It was a pretty nice comb to begin with, you know, like a lot of pretty nice combs…But now it’s the only one like it in the world. Now it’s perfectly itself.”

So, is this what artists do, make something that is perfectly itself?

Gill seems to have been influenced by Marilynn Gelfman Karp, author of “In Flagrante Collecto (Caught in the Act of Collecting),” who coined the phrase poignant repairs and who has a large collection of these humble objects. Another influence is Andrew Baseman who collects and then profiles these objects on his website. 

So let’s look at a few of these poignant repairs. What can they tell us about the act of creation and transformation?

ceramics repaired with metal staples

These broken ceramic pieces were repaired with metal staples. According to legend it’s just such a repair that caused Japanese craftsmen to develop the art of Kintsugi as an aesthetically pleasing alternative. Photos courtesy of Andrew Baseman.

pin cushion from found materials

Talk about wacky. A broken ceramic lid has been used to make a pin cushion, with hand embroidered red feathers. Photos courtesy of Andrew Baseman.

small cast dog with broken leg

This little dog makes me cry. Some one loved it enough to fashion a new leg from a nail and wire. Photo courtesy of Andrew Baseman.

toy dog that lost its fur

This dog lost its fur and so an inventive owner used cotton tape to make a new coat. Photos courtesy of Andrew Baseman.

If the above repairs were made out of practicality combined with love then the following ones add in a more conscious attempt at a design solution to a problem. The online site Platform 21 organized a contest, Remarkable Repairs, for the best repair. Many solutions are funny and some play on visual puns.

staircase baluster repaired with an umbrella

Repaired baluster by Any-One.

broken drainpipe repaired with plastic bottle

Repaired drainpipe by Jaap van der Feer.

too small sweater altered with tiny slits

This piece started out as a sweater that had shrunk and no longer fit. Calypso Schuijt expanded the sweater with a series of small cuts, creating a perfect fit.

broken microwave keypad replaced with arty alternative

Gerald Tros had a microwave with a non-responsive keypad. With some minor rewiring and a custom designed wooden keypad he now has a one-of-a-kind microwave (and he later made a very “arty” one for a friend).

All of the pieces I’ve shown so far have one thing in common, they’ve retained their functional use, and that has been the main impetus behind their creation. The following works are by artists/designers whose work straddles the line between “poignant repairs” and the larger tradition of artists working with repurposed materials.

Jan Vormann repair of old stone walls with plastic lego blocks

Jan Vormann, lego block repairs

Droog rag chair and chest of drawers

Droog, rag chair and chest of drawers

Bouke De Vries ceramic art

Bouke De Vries, ceramics

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