Each year the VERVE project hosts a Visiting Maker (a micro Artist in Residence scheme). In the autumn of 2015, Muneaki Shimode and Takahiko Sato came to Oxford, all the way from Kyoto, to demonstrate and teach the Japanese method of ceramic repair known as Kintsugi.
|Muneaki Shimode and Takahiko Sato © Pitt Rivers Museum|
Kintsugi can be roughly translated as 'Gold Joinery' and involves the repair of broken ceramics with Urushi lacquer, and then applying gold powder to the surface before the lacquer dries. Rather than disguise or hide the damage, the cracks and chips are accentuated with raised gold lines, celebrating cherished or valuable ceramics, and allowing them to be used once more.
This approach to repairing ceramics is very different from the usual European methods where any signs of damage are hidden away and disguised with near-invisible joins.
Although only here for 10 days in November 2015, Muneaki and Takahiko managed to pack in a huge amount including an evening event looking at Japanese Ceramics in Oxford (Fired Works Night), staff and public talks, and three taught workshops for 60 people to learn hands-on kintsugi repair techniques.
Muneaki and Takahiko also carried out kintsugi repairs in the museum galleries using damaged ceramics kindly donated from the Friends of the Pitt Rivers Museum. This allowed members of the public to see the process up close and allowed Muneaki and Takahiko to share their expert knowledge and answer questions.
|Kintsugi public workshop © Pitt Rivers Museum|
Due to the materials and chemicals used in kintsugi, the workshops were restricted to adults, however a Children’s activity – ‘Marvelous Mending’ - explained the ideas behind the technique to a younger audience. A small case display was also installed to document the residency and showcase some of the work. All in all, no part of the museum was left kintsugi free!
So a little more about the artists: Muneaki Shimode works as a Maki-e artist, using various Urushi lacquers, pigments and gold powders to decorate Buddhist temples and altars. He does not describe himself as a professional kintsugi artist as there is no such profession in Japan. However it is common for Maki-e to carry out kintsugi as a sideline to their main work as they have the skills of using Urushi, extremely precise brush-work and handling gold powders.
Takahiko Sato is president of a family business producing the various forms of Urushi lacquer. Urushi lacquer is the refined sap of the Urushi tree, a tree native to SE Asia and a member of the poison ivy family. In its raw state, the sap is a translucent brown colour and can cause painful burns if it comes in contact with the skin. However, in the presence of oxygen and high humidity, the sap slowly hardens after which it can be handled safely.
Although Muneaki and Takahiko have now returned to Kyoto, they have not entirely left the museum. Two of the ceramics they worked on and samples of the materials they used have been accessioned into the museum collection. These are very interesting pieces, as they both come from the first firing of the ‘Dragon Kiln’ built as part of the Oxford Anagama project at Wytham Woods. This is a special type of traditional wood fired Japanese kiln originally from the Bizen area of Japan, which has been built by a team of Japanese and UK master potters.
A repaired plate will also join the Museum’s handling collection where it will be used in future education and outreach activities to allow visitors to pick up and handle the plate and see how the repairs look and feel.
Having these objects in the collection, repaired in this traditional way, gives the museum a very unique link between traditional crafts in both Oxford and Japan and the craftspeople themselves.
Watch our short film where Muneaki and Takahiko explain the philosophy and skill behind the craft, whilst following the journey of a single broken dish - and its owner - through the repair process:
Our many thanks go to everyone who volunteered their time and helped with planning and organizing events, activities, workshops, breaking plates, donating ceramics and all the visitors who came and made the project a success.
Thanks also must go to the Heritage Lottery Fund, the principle supporter of the VERVE project, and the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, who provided funding to bring Muneaki and Takahiko over from Japan. The greatest thanks of all must go to Muneaki and Takahiko themselves, who were so willing to share their knowledge.
If you missed their visit and would like to see the repaired ceramics, they are currently on display on the Museum’s Lower Gallery until 24 April 2016.
|Display of Kintsigi repair on the Museum's Lower Gallery|