Embracing Flaws

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Designers taking a crack at the Japanese art of kintsugi

By Shawna Kulpa

It used to be if you broke your favorite bowl or plate, you mourned the loss and disposed of the remains. If the item was significant enough, you might send it out for repair, but the lingering scar would forever mar the piece.

Over the last few years, however, there’s been growing interest in an old Japanese art that not only embraces those scars, but makes them beautiful. Kintsugi, which means “golden joinery,” uses a lacquer mixed with powdered gold to reattach shards of pottery. Also known as kintsukuroi (“golden repair”), it dates back to the 15th century and allegedly came about by accident. Legend goes that when Japanese shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa broke his favorite tea bowl, he sent it to China to be repaired. When the bowl returned, Yoshimasa was disappointed to see that metal staples had been used to secure the pieces together, detracting from the bowl’s beauty. Frustrated, he worked with local craftsmen on a better solution—and created a new art form.