Minton Bute shape cup, c.1802

December 4th, 2016

This bone china Bute shape tea cup is decorated with two-tone blue flowers, puce tendrils, gilt foliage and bands. Measuring 2.25 inches high with an opening of 3.25 inches, it was made by Minton in Stoke-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, England, at the turn of the 18th century. The Minton mark and pattern number 76 is handwritten in blue on the underside.

When this delicate cup slipped from the hands of a previous owner, unusual symmetrical breaks resulted. It was most likely reassembled by an itinerant china mender in the 1800s who used nine brass staples to put the four porcelain puzzle pieces back in place. The integration of the staples, along with the existing floral motif, create an unexpected and exciting new pattern.

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This tea cup with matching saucer is shown without staples.

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Photo courtesy of WorthPoint

Kintsugi at the MET

November 27th, 2016

Last week I attended my first advanced Kintsugi class given by Gen Saratani, master Japanese lacquer restorer and artist. Kintsugi is the ancient Japanese art of repairing broken ceramics using lacquer and gold. In the spring I took a beginner class with him and repaired a chipped plate, which I posted earlier.

Hoping that I would find examples for inspiration at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, I did indeed stumble upon these early pieces. They are all Korean pottery: stoneware, porcelain & Buncheong ware.

Oil bottle decorated with peony leaves Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), late 12th century. Stoneware with reverse-inlaid design under celadon glaze.

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Maebyeong decorated with cranes and clouds Goryeo dynasty (918-1392), late 13th century. Stoneware with inlaid design under celadon glaze.

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Small bowl decorated with chrysanthemum Goryeo dynasty (918-1392), 12th century. Porcelain with incised design.

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Dish with inscription and decorated with chrysanthemums and rows of dots Joseon dynasty (1392-1910), mid-15th century. Buncheong ware with stamped design.

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Chinese jug with pewter handle, c.1775

November 20th, 2016

This porcelain cream jug with baluster form and a sparrow beak spout was made in China during the Qianlong period (1736-96.) It is decorated in the Famille Rose palette and measures 4 inches high and is about 4 inches wide. The floral swag decoration suggests it was made for the French market.

I can just imagine a French maid in the early 1800s, clearing the breakfast table, grabbing this little jug with fingers still dripping with butter from making croissants, and letting it slip and tumble to the ground. Sadly, the cover and handle must have broken into too many pieces to repair, so a tinker was engaged and created a pewter replacement handle. Not sure if the shattered cover or the maid with shattered nerves were ever replaced.

This jug with similar form and decoration shows what the the original handle and cover on mine looked like before it took a tumble.

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Photo courtesy of Andrew Dando

Pewter teapot, c.1850

November 13th, 2016

This unassuming pewter teapot was most likely made in America in the mid 19th century. It stands 9 inches tall and has a fanciful wooden handle and knob. As pewter is a soft and malleable metal, many early pieces did not survive intact. This pot is one such example.

At some point during the past 160+ years, the original base was damaged and the tea stopped flowing. A tinsmith fashioned a simple tin conical foot as a replacement and the teapot was able to function once again. At the time of the repair, the shiny metal base stood in stark contrast to the dull pewter. But today, both metals appear to have melded and the repair is now hard to detect.

This pewter teapot with similar form suggests what the original base on mine might have looked like.

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Photo courtesy of eBay

Pair of Famille Rose dragons cups, c.1890

November 6th, 2016

This pair of unmarked Chinese porcelain cups from the Guangxu period (1875-1908) are nicely decorated in the Famille Rose palette with peach trees, dragons chasing flaming pearls, and koi fish in waves. Each measures nearly 2.75 inches high and 4 inches in diameter.

It’s hard to tell if the bronze handles, most likely added in the early 1900s, were replacement handles or if they were attached to transform handless bowls into drinking cups.

Finding pairs of inventive repairs is uncommon and I am always on the lookout for more examples. In the coming weeks I will show other pairs from my collection so stay tuned.

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Broken Toys

October 30th, 2016

Last night I ran into an old friend, Andrea Lippke, who wrote a wonderful article, “In Make-Do Objects, Collectors Find Beauty Beyond Repair,” about my collection in The New York Times a few years back. She couldn’t wait to share with me a YouTube video she and her young daughter had been enjoying: Walt Disney’s Broken Toys, a Silly Symphony short film from 1935.

The film begins with garbage being tossed into a heap of discarded items with a NO DUMPING sign looming in the foreground. A sailor doll with a broken leg befriends a jack-in-the-box with a broken spring, a doll missing her eyes, a rag doll that lost its stuffing, and toy soldiers with missing body parts. I cringe to mention that also included are shocking racial stereotypes, including a black mammy doll missing her seat and a black dancing marionette with broken strings. It amazes and saddens me that these images were accepted by our culture in the not too distant past.

With help from the sailor doll, each toy gets a make-do repair, including my favorite, a toy solider flautist with a thimble replacement hat and a pencil standing in for a missing leg. In the background throughout the film are dozens of chipped and cracked ceramics, each screaming out for an inventive repair.

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Here are some of my own broken toys, each an ultimate survivor that could easily have ended up in the same garbage dump depicted in the film. My heartfelt thanks to the unsung heroes who brought these toys back to life.

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Chinese mug with multiple repairs, c.1750

October 22nd, 2016

This bell-shaped footed porcelain mug was made in China in the mid 1700s. It has floral decoration in the Famille Rose palette and stands 5.5 inches tall.

It appears that someone literally loved this mug to pieces. I imagine that the person who dropped it must have been heartbroken, watching it tumble to the ground where it suffered multiple breaks, chips, and cracks. The early metal repairs, done over 150 years ago, included a band along the rim to stabilize cracks, braces on the handle, and rivets to reinforce four symmetrical chips. Much how time can mend a broken heart, a skilled restorer did an excellent yet eccentric job with this mug break-up.

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Design Philadelphia 2016

October 16th, 2016

I gave a talk yesterday in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as part of Design Philadelphia’s citywide celebration. My gracious hosts for the event were Emily Finigan, of Finigan Color & Interiors, and Alex Stadler, owner of stadler-Kahn, where I gave my talk.

Emily, who has been following my blog since its inception, is a kindred spirit whom I finally got to meet last January at the New York Ceramics & Glass Fair. Alex is a multi-talented artist, author, and textile designer.

Upon entering Alex’s inviting subterranean shop, I was immediately drawn to a large wall of full-size images from my collection that Emily had painstakingly printed, cut out, and mounted, creating a striking backdrop. I couldn’t help but look at each and every piece of merchandise that Alex had acquired for his shop, and I loved the eclectic mix of mid-century ceramics, original vintage New Yorker Magazine illustrations, metal sculptures, glassware, along with wool scarves, rugs, and shirts of his own design.

I enjoyed being in the warm, inviting, intimate space – perfect for my informal talk. After it ended, the chairs were cleared, refreshments were served, and I chatted with the attendees, many of whom had interesting questions and observations regarding early repairs.

It was a beautiful weekend in Philly and I was glad to have been a part of Design Philadelphia. I look forward to returning to the City of Brotherly Love and next time maybe I can do something about that large crack in the Liberty Bell.

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Canary yellow jug, c.1825

October 9th, 2016

This one’s a mystery. A few years back, I purchased this small, canary yellow, footed pottery jug with brown floral decoration from a dealer in the UK. I was thrilled to add it to my collection, as I had not seen another piece quite like it. But therein lies the conundrum. It’s such an unusual piece that I can’t find any information about it. After showing it to a few experts in the field, it has been determined that it was most likely made in North East England around 1820 to 1830.

The jug stands 4.75 inches high and has a sturdy metal tinker’s replacement handle added in the 19th century. If anyone has further information about this jug or has seen other examples with similar decoration, please let me know. I am eager to mark this investigation “case closed!”

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Ceramic shards and inventive repairs

October 2nd, 2016

When I was about 10 years old, I started collecting ceramic shards gathered during my daily journey to school. It was a 1 mile trek from my house on Elmwood Place to Glenwood Elementary School and a favorite route of mine was to cut through the Hartshorn Arboretum. It was more fun to follow the creek rather than the walking path, and it was there that I began finding and filling my pockets with bits and pieces of broken pottery and porcelain. I kept my treasures in an old cigar box on a shelf above my desk. A few years later when the box became full I decided to glue the pieces to an old glass bottle, creating a ceramic patchwork. I was pleased with my creation and thrilled that my parents let me display it alongside their highly regarded Chinese porcelain, mercury glass and English pottery pieces. Little did I know at the time that my childhood collection of ceramic shards would plant a seed that would take root years later and blossom into my collecting broken ceramics with inventive repairs.

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My ceramic patchwork bottle sits in the back on the middle shelf.

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Now it seems that ceramic shards are finally getting the attention they deserve. The recently published London in Fragments by Ted Sandling is filled with wonderful photos showcasing artifacts found along the River Thames. Each relic gives insight into the lives of those who tossed their unwanted household items into London’s ultimate detritus depot.

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Across the pond is Alban Horry, an archeologist, or more precisely a ceramologist: one who studies ceramics and pottery. He lives in Lyon, France, and works at INRAP, the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research, studying ceramics from the Middle Age to 20th century found in excavations.

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Mr. Horry has written 2 books on the subject, including Poteries de Lyon 1500-1850.

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