Archive for October, 2016

Broken Toys

Sunday, 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

Saturday, 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

Sunday, 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

Sunday, 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

Sunday, 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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