I buy old, sometimes patterned, plates on e-bay, in junk and antique shops, and these live with me – often for months or years. Some stay with me in my studio, whilst others make it into the house where they are used for serving food. When the time comes, I add to them – a mark, a line, a gold edge, or I compose, collaging with in-glaze decals. Then I re-fire them to give them a new life.
Contemporary attitudes to the re-use of existent material are generally very positive – re-cycling wood for example in contemporary furniture has become commonplace, and the patina of age a pre-requisite for selling much ‘Country Living’ type craft. If it does seem to be less acceptable with chipped, cracked or crazed ceramics then I’m not exactly sure why – perhaps its because Antiques Road Show valuers frown upon them. However, I habitually collect glazed tableware – from e-bay, junk and antique shops. Some of it may have crazed glazing, some may be cracked, chipped, or the gold lustre worn from the edges. At first I was reluctant to use these pieces in work for sale, being aware that they are seen by some as flaws and devaluations, but over time I have grown very fond of these imperfections – I realized that it is because they evidence the object’s history. For me these characteristics are no longer flaws or reasons to reject the form – in fact quite the opposite – they allude to the object’s previous life, it has already been used and handled, it already has a history. For me this evidence of wear is an enhancement to a piece. When re-working the ready-made I acknowledge, bring attention to the mark, chip or crack. If it is on the rim of a plate or the lip of a jug I fill with lustre so it is quite obvious. Crazed glaze and dirty cracks often fuse in the kiln with unexpected results within the glaze – a bloom of grey or or pink on a plate or bowl adds to their richness. These uncontrollable marks and fissures also often allude to the conceptual reasoning behind certain works.
eBay sellers are not all experienced in packing and posting ceramics, so sometimes purchased plates arrive in pieces. At first I would get quite upset when lovely objects arrived as shards, but I soon became pretty philosophical about it – after all as a ceramist I am used to kiln surprises. My work is always fired a some stage (sometimes several times) so risk is built into working processes – dunts, cracks, over-fired bubbled glazes happen. So I have been collecting and saving these assorted broken pieces for some time now.
Riveted (practice piece) Enoch Woods Castles plate
For The Nature of Mending I have gone further than the simply distressed, chipped or cracked. The work in this exhibition was selected for use because the plates were actually physically broken – in some cases into several pieces.
Medalta and Hycroft:
In the autumn of 2011, I spent several weeks at Medalta in Medicine Hat Alberta working on an artist residency.
In spite of its relative remoteness from urban customers and markets the city was once home to Canada’s ceramics industry – its answer to Stoke on Trent. Medicine Hat had clay and fuel (gas) for firing in abundance, as well as the Canadian Pacific Railroad. In its heyday Medicine Hat ceramic wares were exported around the world, but the decline set in after World War Two and Medalta Stoneware folded in 1954. The last pottery factory closed in 1989. Many of the sites and buildings were simply abandoned. The Medalta project, including a museum and artist residency programme is housed on one of the remaining factory sites.
Hycroft Factory Medicine Hat Alberta , September 2011
In 2011 I was invited to take part in a print focussed Artist Residency at Medalta by Laura McKibbon. During my time there I was able to visit other mothballed industrial sites in the area and chose to work with plates from the extant Hycroft factory. There were boxes full of plates, shelves with stacks of unused wares as well as skips with broken forms. I collected a variety of objects to work with but was increasingly drawn to the seconds, cracked and imperfect pieces. I created prints that reflected Alberta’s flat dramatic landscapes and skies and these were applied to a variety of forms from cistern lids to chunky mugs. In time the broken wares formed a distinct body of work with horizon lines being defined by the cracks or breaks in plates.
Most of the work was eventually shipped back to me in England and some pieces variously exhibited since then. The broken wares have only been shown in Keynote (or Powerpoint) presentations as part of talks or lectures. I liked them very much, but I wasn’t actually sure that they were finished.
Kintsugu bowl, The Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle Upon Tyne
When I was invited to be part of The Nature of Mending project I knew immediately what I would do. Some of my earliest works, based on research into Minoan Faience in Crete, imitated the stapled, riveted and wired antiquities in the Stratigraphical Museum at Knossos using porcelain modeling and metal lustres.
Detail of The Town Mosaic Collage No:14. Inglaze decal and painted underglaze on handbuilt form 35cm dia., Paul Scott 1987
I had already begun to investigate the actual material and craft processes involved in what are now obsolete, (and in some cases unacceptable) conservation methodologies of ceramic repairs. The intent then was to add these repertoires of re-making to my artistic practice, actually using riveted and wired ‘repairs’ to forms rather than creating the tromp l’oeil effects of my earlier works.
Because riveting and wiring involve physically drilling wares, the processes ‘interfere with the integrity of the object’. One conservationist told me that even if she knew how riveting was done she wouldn’t tell me because it was such bad practice. Eventually I found the handbook China Mending and Restoration by Parsons and Curle.
This provided step by step instructions for a huge variety of ceramic repairs, including riveting. With the help of colleague Ingjerd Hanevold Jewellery Professor at Oslo National Academy of the Arts (KHiO), I managed to work out how to do prepare hard brass wire, drill holes and insert ‘half round’ staples to hold cracked pieces of plate together with no glue. My efforts are probably not quite up to Parsons’ and Curl’s expert craft skills and I’m quite sure they are not suited for daily utilitarian use, but they do work.
Working with half round hard brass wire rivets in studio
Another ceramic repair technology that I became aware of is Kintsugu, the Japanese art of fixing broken ceramics. The process involves the gradual building up layers of laquer, fixing, sanding and final dusting with gold. A contemporary take on Kintsugu is a kit marketed by Humade run by sisters Gieke and Lotte Dekker. Their process involves the use of epoxy resin and cosmetic gold dust. I enjoyed the spontaneity of Lotte Dekker’s ‘repaired’ forms. In my versions I added real gold leaf to the sticky glue.
The Nature of Mending commission has enabled me to add processes to my artistic vocabulary. The Scott’s Cumbrian Blue(s) Alberta artworks are my first completed pieces using stapling and contemporary Kintsugu. They won’t be the last.
Scott’s Cumbrian Blue(s), Alberta No:9. Inglaze decal collage and gold leaf on glued Hycroft China earthenware plate 25cm dia. Paul Scott 2011/2013 Medalta, Medicine Hat, Alberta Canada and Blencogo, Cumbria, UK.
Scott’s Cumbrian Blue(s), Alberta No:8. Inglaze decal collage and gold leaf on broken Hycroft China earthenware plate, riveted with brass staples. Paul Scott 2011/13. Medalta, Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada and Blencogo, Cumbria, UK.
Finally, there is a wonderful blog thats well worth a look… Past Imperfect, The Art of Inventive Repair by Andrew Baseman. He writes: ‘Antiques with inventive repairs (also known as “make-do” repairs) are unique examples of necessity and thrift, made during a time before Krazy Glue was invented. Unlike today where we discard anything chipped or cracked, broken household items were repaired at home or taken to a metalsmith to be brought back to life, often with whimsical results. Once regarded merely as damaged goods by antiques dealers and collectors alike, antiques with inventive repairs are justly receiving the respect they deserve.’ Past Imperfect, The Art of Inventive Repair.
Rivets and The Town Mosaic:
In the early 1990’s I spent time investigating a collection of ancient (Minoan) faience objects – ‘The Town Mosaic’. My research led me to examine unrestored pieces in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and other tiles displayed in the Museum in Iraklion. As I worked on my project and compared the original fragments in England with those in Crete, I became aware of how badly these tiny, delicate efflouresced tiles had been ‘restored’ in the 1930’s when originally excavated. All the pieces – fragments – I saw in Iraklion had been ‘reconstructed’. The imaginative extensions of inlaid graphic lines of a tiny corner into full buildings were dubious enough, but the shellacked surfaces effectively destroyed colours and glazed surfaces that had survived undisturbed for centuries. Although doubtless well intended, the 1930 restorations had fatally interfered with the material integrity of the absorbent faience body.
Whilst working in Crete I was based at the British School at Athens site in Knossos. I had access to the Stratigraphic Museum, repository of tens of thousands of shards, and semi-restored objects. Although not my main focus, I became fascinated by another re-constructive methodology – the stapling of pottery fragments to piece original forms back together. This process involved drilling holes into shards which were then held together with precisely cut metal staples (or ‘rivets’). The practice was ancient, probably originating in China centuries earlier. Before the invention of modern glues, it was the only process that could restore the functionality to broken porcelain or pottery. If properly repaired, a good riveted ceramic was rendered perfectly useable again.
Tromp l’oeil, Ready-mades, Curation, and a Film:
The artwork I made as a result of that period of research took the form of ceramic ‘collage’ forms, tromp l’oeil bowls appearing to be made up of stapled riveted and taped elements. I mimicked the detail of repaired pithoi with tiny porcelain tapes and marked reliefs, lustred with precious metals.
In the ensuing years, partly because of a lack of critical reception, my practice deliberately moved away from hand-built forms. Instead I began working immersively with factory made tablewares, investigating how their graphic narrative surfaces could be appropriated to comment on contemporary issues and commemorate industrial landscapes of the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries.
In 1999 I was invited by Jo Dahn and Moira Vincentelli to create an exhibition at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, juxtaposing my contemporary blue and white with historical tablewares from the local museum. One of the plates I chose was riveted with a staggering number of metal staples. It was quite beautiful, and decided that one day I would learn to do this.
Since then, when opportunity has arisen I have pursued the process. It has been a long slow journey. Several years ago someone (was it Laura McKibbon? www.culdesacdesign.com) tipped me off about a beautiful Chinese film The Road Home. During the narrative a peripatetic pot mender is seen using hand tools to drill porcelain and re-staple – or ‘rivet’ a broken bowl, key to the narrative of the film.
On other occasions I have spoken with museum conservators about the process. None have been positive about the practice. Like the faience restoration, the practice interferes with the ‘material integrity’ of the objects. I was told that in modern practice if riveted forms are subject to restoration, it is customary to remove evidence of the previous repairs.
I was puzzled by this attitude. Of course in the case of shellack on faience there could be no argument that the originally, well-intentioned ‘conservation’ fundamentally altered the original material. The liquid solvent chemically damaged delicate mosaic fragments, darkening and obscuring original vitreous colour. Expert riveting on the other hand can be a thing of great beauty, it minimally alters the form in order to preserve. In the centuries before effective modern glues the use of stapling was the only way to conserve broken wares. Without the menders craft, prescious plates and pots could never have been saved and would have been lost to us. The material synthesis of metal with ceramic are evidence of value and history – well riveted pots are things of beauty.
Mending, Patience, Help and Reward:
Being an artist often requires the virtue of patience if ideas are to become reality. Time, context and funding are always factors, so when I was approached to take part in the project The Nature of Mending I realized that this was the perfect catalyst to advance the long held ambition to learn the craft of mending by riveting.
Research in the past few months has been variously enthralling, exciting and incredibly frustrating. I bought the book China Mending and Conservation (by Parsons and Curl) a number of years ago, now I had the reason to read and digest. The text is dated by its time (it was written in the 1950’s) and amusing to read (about the inappropriateness of women’s bossoms for example) but it is a clear and precise narrative. Simply illustrated with clear line drawings it has proved an effective manual in my quest for the necessary knowledge.
Everything looks be be possible, except I need a length of 16 gauge half round, hard brass wire. Not you notice round, half hard brass wire. The hardness is necessary so that the metal has enough spring or tension to hold pieces of pottery together, and the half round to enable the flush fitting of these small staples to the ceramic. I searched the web, jewellery and wire suppliers, tweeted… I ordered round, half hard brass wire by mistake, tried half round silver nickel wire – but it was too soft. Eventually finding a supplier who would ‘draw’ me 16 gauge half round, hard brass wire – but I had to order 2kgs (enough for 180 metres of the stuff). In all my years as an artist, have never worked with metal, I know so little about almost everything – measurements, types, suppliers, tools – the lot. It is an unfamiliar feeling. The nearest I come to using it is in liquid form as painted lustre.
Since 2011 I have been fortunate to be Visiting Professor at an extraordinary institution – The Oslo National Academy of the Arts (KHiO – www.khio.no). It is probably the best equipped art school in Europe (maybe even on the planet) and opened on its new site, merging a number of disparate but related institutions together in 2010. It is located alongside a river on Forsvein, housed in the converted sailcloth factory. It has been stuffed with state of the art machinery – the best printing presses, screen beds, computer controlled weaving, embroidery gear, 3D scanning, digital production, huge kilns the list goes on – and it includes lots of metal forming equipment.
Ingjer is the Professor of Metal, an artist working with jewellery. Over the past few months, in between meetings, lectures, teaching responsibilities during my brief sojourns in the Norwegian capital we have exchanged questions, answers, photographs of our gardens and shared an intrigue in this ancient, ‘dead art’.
This week we assembled the necessary tools and materials and early in the school day mid-week set to the task of making the much read and discussed into reality. I only had round hard brass wire, but this was soon rendered half round by the judicious use of a file – how simple. We then explored the various possibilities for drawing and rolling to create a half round profile. With the right tools and equipment it was simple. Now how can I cancel my order for 2 kgs of the stuff?
The next step was to use this (previously elusive) newly formed, wire profile. Using a dentist drilling tool, a diamond tipped bit and a little water for cooling, small holes were drilled, at an angle into a broken Rörstrand earthenware bowl. Then a few centimeters of the half round, hard brass wire were formed into a partial staple using jewellers’ pliers and fingertips. Eventually with appropriate snipping and gentle tapping the rivet took its place, flush with glazed surface. It looked perfect. Then I repeated the procedure – and it worked. We did it – and it was not rocket science.
Our tests were done on whole fragments of bowl, they did not function to fix broken pieces together together. Some hours repeat drilling, making, fixing staples to develop some fluency and feel for the materials are needed, then I will begin to ‘mend’ some broken wares. i’m told I could use silver or gold wire, but for now the brass is fine. It’s beautful -that juxtaposition of shining metal fixed into glassy substrate. I can’t wait to get to work on the real things…. Of course I haven’t blogged about the work these rivets will be used in for the Nature of Mending project, that is the subject for another posting…
April 20, 2013…
Some of my earliest works, based on research into Minoan Faience in Crete,imitated the stapled, riveted and wired antiquities in the Stratigraphical
Museum at Knossos using porcelain modeling and metal lustres.
Today, I routinely use ready made tablewares in my artwork, altering surfaces
by erasure, re-glazing, the addition of in-glaze decal prints and precious
metal lustres. In recent times I have been increasingly drawn to broken,
cracked or chipped objects. These ‘imperfections’ – a by-product of use –
add a patina of age and value, they indicate that the plates, bowls and
other forms have already had a life.
Most recently I have begun to seek out the cracked and physically broken –
leading me to investigate the actual material and craft processes involved in
what are now obsolete, (and in some cases unacceptable) conservation
methodologies. The intent is to add these repertoires of re-making to my
artistic practice, actually using staple and wired ‘repairs’ to forms rather than
creating the tromp l’oeil effects of my earlier works.