Writer Bonnie Kemske explores why Kintsugi is a beautiful repair technique, but it is also so much more.
Kintsugi: The Poetic Mend is a book about making beautiful repairs in both our most cherished possessions and in our lives. Kintsugi is a Japanese repair technique for ceramics that produces seams of gold. It never hides a pot’s damage or destruction but instead creates new objects from the old, ones that are more beautiful than the originals.
Introducing Bonnie Kemske
I am an American ceramic artist and writer living in the UK. Born into a US Air Force family while we were stationed in Okinawa, Japan, the family memories of that time have exerted a far-reaching influence on me and my life. After university, I lived in Kyoto for a while to learn chanoyu, a Japanese tea ceremony. My ceramic sculptures are about recreating that quiet moment in the tea ceremony when you hold the bowl of thick green tea, and the world feels right. The sculptures engage the body’s multiple senses of touch to evoke that feeling.
Kintsugi is more than just a repair technique.
In 2013, while being interviewed for a BBC Radio 4 programme, I first articulated the critical message in kintsugi. Its metaphor can be used to find beauty in survival, in overcoming tragedy. I talked about my brother’s death when I was a child and how that tragedy had shaped me. Underneath, I had always felt that his loss had made me stronger, but through kintsugi, I could articulate that I needn’t feel guilty about his death, making me a better person.
So, in a way, I felt driven to write Kintsugi: The Poetic Mend, as a way of sharing this very intimate understanding.
In my first book, The Teabowl: East and West, I acknowledged that my background as a ceramic artist, a writer, and a long-time student of Japanese tea ceremony determined how I put the book together. In Kintsugi, I added my personal story, delving into the metaphor and how others, not just I, have used this metaphor as a way of accepting the difficult things that happen in life.
Lessons for hard times
I travelled to Japan for research. There, I uncovered a host of stories about kintsugi’s techniques, history, and the role it has played in Japanese aesthetics and culture. I learned that the repairs are done in lacquer with gold or other powdered metals added on top.
I discovered how kintsugi traces its origins to around 1600 and how it was the tea ceremony that promoted it. I found how Japan, a land of earthquakes, acknowledges and accepts cracks and breakage. I spoke to Kuroda Yukiko, a kintsugi practitioner, who felt that putting pots back together helped her recover from illness and supported her in putting her life back together.
The more you learn about kintsugi, the more you learn about life. Kintsugi encourages us to accept the imperfections in ourselves and others.
It teaches us that beauty can be found in difference and uniqueness. And it can serve as inspiration. Talking with the famous potter Raku Kichizaemon XV and his wife, they told me about their friend. He had been a wealthy businessman, but his business had failed, and he had lost everything. They offered him a bowl of tea in the kintsugi-repaired tea bowl called ‘Nekowaride’ (Broken By a Cat).
One year later, he wrote to say that during the months since then, he thought about that tea bowl, and it had inspired him to work hard to put his life back together – not as it had been before, but better. Kintsugi is a beautiful repair technique, but it is also so much more.
Kintsugi: The Poetic Mend by Bonnie Kemske (Hardback: £30.00) is published by Bloomsbury and is out now.
We are offering Creative Impact readers, 20% off the Kintsugi book with code CREATIVE20 (expires 1st July, UK only). Get your copy here.
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Bonnie Kemske is an artist, writer, and former Editor of Ceramic Review. With a PhD from the Royal College of Art, she is the author of The Teabowl: East and West, and has written feature articles and reviews for publications including Crafts and The Art Newspaper, as well as presenting at academic conferences for art, ceramics and within fields related to touch.