THE ART OF MEND­ING

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI -

The an­cient re­pair tech­nique of looks to be mak­ing a come­back in China as more and more peo­ple learn how to ap­pre­ci­ate im­per­fec­tion classes.

Gu now runs a pot­tery re­pair stu­dio with two ap­pren­tices at Hongqiao An­tique Mall and though she has only been in the pro­fes­sion for two years, her work­man­ship has al­ready earned praise and recog­ni­tion from her clients. Busi­ness has been so brisk that cus­tomers of­ten have to wait for months be­fore they can re­trieve their re­paired ce­ramic ware.

One of Gu’s largest as­sign­ments was hav­ing to re­pair more than 100 “jian zhan” teacups from the Shang­hai Jian Zhan Col­lec­tors Club. Made in Jianyang, Fu­jian prov­ince, about 1,000 years ago, th­ese fun­nel-shaped cups are highly sought after in the an­tique mar­ket and of­ten com­mand huge prices at auc­tions.

Liao Chengyi, head of the club in Shang­hai, re­vealed that col­lec­tors used to send their dam­aged cups to lo­cal restora­tion work­shops in Fu­jian, only to dis­cover that the work­man­ship was far from sat­is­fac­tory. Also, be­cause the work­ers had used glue as a sealant to speed up the re­pair process, it was no longer safe to drink from the cup.

This was when col­lec­tors started turn­ing to Gu, who uses tra­di­tional tech­niques and ma­te­ri­als such as lac­quer and pure gold. After mend­ing the cups, Gu would place them in a hu­mid­i­fier for sev­eral weeks to let them dry. This also en­sures that the cups are safe for ev­ery­day use.

“A teacup is not just an ob­ject of ev­ery­day use. Peo­ple can be­come at­tached to it after us­ing it for years be­cause it em­bod­ies their mem­o­ries. It is like a piece of them­selves,” said Gu.

There are only a few studios in Shang­hai that of­fer Ju Ci ser­vices. Gu said that she only knows of about 10 other crafts­men in the city who are trained in Ju Ci.

An­tique deal­ers in the mall of­ten en­gage her to re­store their vin­tage pot­tery as well. The prices of an­tique pieces in per­fect con­di­tion are of­ten too pro­hib­i­tive. How­ever, an an­tique that has been re­paired is much friend­lier on the wal­let.

Be­sides pot­tery and ce­ram­ics, Gu has also han­dled other items such as jade

bracelets and even a vin­tage bam­boo flute a client had bought from Ja­pan. She said that work­ing with bam­boo is es­pe­cially tricky, be­cause drilling into it at the wrong an­gle will in­stantly cause cracks to ap­pear.

Gu also oc­ca­sion­ally con­ducts Ju Ci work­shops for mem­bers of the pub­lic to learn more about its his­tory and tech­niques. Among th­ese work­shop par­tic­i­pants are den­tists, sur­geons, art mu­seum direc­tors and univer­sity pro­fes­sors.

The tech­nique of Ju Ci is more than 1,000 years old in China. Il­lus­tra­tions of crafts­men mend­ing pots can be found in Chi­nese paint­ings dat­ing back to as early as the 13th cen­tury. Gu es­ti­mates that there are only about 1,000 crafts­men in China who are skilled in Ju Ci. In some re­gions of China, the craft has been rec­og­nized as an in­tan­gi­ble cul­tural her­itage.

Ex­pert crafts­men in the past who were deal­ing with porce­lain wares would drill through the glazed sur­face us­ing han­d­op­er­ated drilling wheels equipped with a diamond tip. The process re­quires great pre­ci­sion and con­trol given the fragility of the porce­lain.

In this mod­ern era, Gu uses a fine ma­chin­ery drill that re­volves up to 50,000 times every minute to ac­cu­rately cre­ate fine holes at the re­quired an­gles.

“Den­tists use the same ma­chine to work on peo­ple’s teeth. You need to op­er­ate the drill in such a way that it pierces the porce­lain or pot­tery sur­face with­out pen­e­trat­ing it,” ex­plained Gu.

Apart from us­ing sta­ples made from iron or gold, Ju Ci crafts­men also use metal to seal the cracks or patch chipped ar­eas. Crafts­men may at times also carve pat­terns on the metal to make the patch­work more aes­thetic.

The Ja­panese method of kintsugi is some­times also used to seal cracks. This tech­nique in­volves fill­ing the gap with lac­quer and fin­ish­ing off with a lin­ing of fine gold.

The tech­nique of Ju Ci dif­fers from typ­i­cal re­pair meth­ods in that it is not aimed at restor­ing the per­fect look, and this is where its beauty lies, said Gu.

“Re­pair marks are an in­di­ca­tion of the item’s his­tory,” she said.

“Peo­ple don’t re­gard them as im­per­fec­tions — they see them as mean­ing­ful state­ments.”

Gu Yu is among one of the few JuCi ex­perts in Shang­hai. She cur­rently op­er­ates a pot­tery re­pair stu­dio at Hongqiao An­tique Mall.

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