Earthrise – Kintsugi


One of the defining realities about working with clay is its journey through the fire.

It is a step of faith to put a piece, representing days or weeks of work, into the kiln, close the lid, and bring up the fire. As the heat rises from a dull glow, to cherry red, to white heat, a myriad of physical processes take place, transforming the fine dust of the clay to the point where it returns back to the stone from whence it came.

In this journey, there are many things which can go sideways, often related to the thickness of the clay body or any remaining moisture or air pockets trapped in the clay. I don’t know for sure what happened with this piece — Earthrise — but when I opened the kiln the next day, I found a number of fragments which had burst and scattered across the inside of the kiln.

The Japanese have an ancient tradition known as kintsugi. Kintsugi came out of the tradition of the tea ceremony, as well as the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, an embracing of the flawed or imperfect. At times, the precious tea bowls used in this ceremony would break, but rather than simply discarding the fragments, they would be given to a master potter to be mended. In the process which emerged, which could take years or even generations, the resulting bowl became even more valuable than it had been originally. I have developed a similar process using a gold colored lacquer, where I mend pieces like this which have cracked or shattered.

The beauty of this tradition, and of the pieces I have been able to put back together again through this process, is that it acknowledges the brokenness rather than trying to hide it. The figure here, much like all of us, broke under the fire of the kiln. It may or may not have been a fault in the clay, or the way the figure was built, but regardless, the consequences left her as a pile of scattered fragments. But the potter still knows his original intent – she still exists in his imagination as whole. Rather than discard the broken pieces, or hide the “mistake”, the potter carefully brings the shards back together again, outlining them with precious gold.

As she stands, emerging from a swirl of earth and clay, she declares her identity as one touched by the potter. In the same way, in the middle of all of our brokenness, we emerge, repaired by the Potter’s hands, marked with gold, loved by the Father.

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