The craft of Kintsugi

In the next edition of The Journal of Modern Craft (9.1), Guy Keulemans provides a succint overview of the history and practice of the Japanese craft kintsugi, the art of repairing broken ceramics with urushi laquer and gold or silver. Alongside a thorough investigation of the craft’s relationship to Japanese culture, Keulemans provides some examples from contemporary art and design practice which foreground the idea of ‘transformative repair’ that is inherent to kintsugi-craft.

As a sort of teaser to Keulemans’ article, I wanted to draw the reader’s attention to the work of Japanese artist Aono Fumiaki currently on show at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition 2016 in London.

Aono Kumiaki, Mending, Restoration: Restoration of of Cassette Tapes Collected in Yuriage, Miyagi, Japan, After The Great East Japan Eartquake and Tsunami, 2012-13.

In a series of sculptures, Fumiaki brings together broken objects picked up in the Yuriage and Miyagi region of Japan, after the devastating 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake that led to the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The found objects Fumiaki has collected as the foundation of his work include a corner of a tape cassette or VCR, a modest tile, a scrap of a school exercise book, and piles damaged books. But he does not simply draw the viewer’s attention to these provocative objects by presenting them in the mode of Marcel Duchamp’s unassisted readymades. Instead, the damaged object is mounted on wood and is ‘restored’ by merging the fragment with a replica of its lost whole, carved from wood and then painted. The final object can be considered an example of ‘transformative repair,’ but unlike kintsugi that celebrates the moment of destruction, Fukiami’s small scupltures are haunting, the replica stretching the original form of the found object, with the initially detailed reconstruction by the join between original and copy fading to wooden whiteness (see above).

Fumiaki’s salvage operation brings to mind Ai WeiWei’s monumental Straight (2008-12) that was exhibited in the Royal Academy’s main galleries just six months ago: construction steels that were picked up by Ai from buildings (including schools) that fell in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, and then straightened in a provocative and moving gesture of memorialisation to the many school children’s lives that were lost.

In these instances, and in the widespread practice of kintsugi, we see how embroilment with material damage and repair can provide a palpable sense of healing to the trauma of natural and human disasters to which many populations are subject.

Healing Accessories: Modern Craftsmanship Applied to Assistive Device Design

Weichen Chang holds a Ph.D in Design Research, National Yunlin University of Science and Technology and is Assistant Professor in the Department of Industrial Design, Chang Gung University, R.O.C. This article expresses how modern craftsmanship is mobilized to produce innovative aesthetics for assistive device design. Combining modern craftsmanship with industrially produced assistive devices has the potential to enrich innovation and add to the future quality of life for those who use these devices.


An “assistive device” is any device that helps someone do something that they might not otherwise be able to do well, or at all. The term is used for any device that helps people overcome a handicap whether relating to mobility, vision, mental, dexterity or hearing loss. These devices often make their users feel conspicuous, deviant or stigmatized (Scherer, 2000). As noted by Mace (1998) little or no attention is paid to the aesthetics of assistive technology. Batavia & Hammer (1990) use the term “personal acceptability” to describe the extent to which the consumer is psychologically comfortable when using assistive devices in public, including whether they consider devices to be aesthetically attractive. With this in mind that assistive device design must meet the basic physical demands of the disabled as well as the psychological demand for bettering the quality of daily life.

A study by H. C. A. Yeh (2009) found that when accounting for the misuse or lack of use of assistive devices “unattractiveness” was not given as a reason. Thus, we could conclude that practicality comes before aesthetics. Yet, these two goals are not mutually exclusive. For instance, Yanagi Muneyoshi (2013) concluded that if beauty is located in “use” then the most practical appliance can benefit from being finely crafted. This study examines the craftsmanship of assistive devices, which in turn demonstrates aesthetic value. Wobbrock (2010) believed assistive technologies do not bridge social misperceptions of disability and therefore may not meet their potential for enabling a comprehensive understanding of access. Assistive technology design should address function, usability and cost as well as aesthetics and social acceptance. If people with disabilities use the same technology as everyone else, perceptions of what they can and cannot do may be re-aligned. After all, technology now exists to provide unparalleled access. We should consider how to change perceptions. Oskar Krantz (2009) stated the factors known to influence user attitudes include aesthetics, ease of propulsion, ease of transfer, fit, design, size, weight, maneuverability and portability. Aesthetics and optimal design are important features even though assistive devices have a history of being crudely fashioned devices. Assistive devices can be seen as both “tools assisting bodily function” and as a contributor to the “body/self as it is experienced and presented to others”.

In this study various materials and methods are applied to assistive device design. The materials used are important to the user’s touch with some materials being more user-friendly than others. By discussing the situation and atmosphere that users exist in from the “scenario” point of view, an aesthetic image is developed and the overall modern design form. The design is performed based on the correlation between the user and environmental elements. The implication of craftsmanship aesthetics is transformed into a style language as a reference for the assistive device design. This study aims are: 1. Understand from the Phenomenology of Perception a complementary relationship between craftsmanship aesthetics and physical culture forming the design expression. 2. Realise that designers are able to fully master the craftsmanship aesthetic of assistive device design and make use of it in developing products that symbolize a theme that responds to the times, creating fashions that lead the design style.

Case Studies

Assistive devices used by the disabled should achieve the quality aesthetics of “people, scenario, matter, usage, exquisite, beautiful” and convey the “health and beauty” of modern craftsmanship applied to assistive device design. The study shows how the future development of assistive device design has gradually changed. Producers are no longer just concerned with functional demands but have to pay heed to the phenomenologies of perception and enrich the interactive experience with society.

Effective assistive device design requires designers to think outside the box and integrate modern craftsmanship. Four dimensions of modern craftsmanship are considered:

  1. Suitable form: geometric form is extensively applied in aesthetic style and widely used.
  2. Form function: materials and craftsmanship can be applied to assistive device design. Diversified materials can be taken into consideration for assistive device design.
  3. Touch: Both form and material that convey the specific healing value bring sensitivity to the human sense of touch.

The application of craftsmanship in assistive device design aims primarily to better the designer’s capability to integrate the physical function with the aesthetic interpretation, but it must be used with caution to create a compatible effect. Moreover, comprehensive craft aesthetics are necessary to prevent embarrassing emphasis of any particular disability and each “craft” has its specific material or form with variations used as the best tool for the designer. In the examples that follow we can observe the following: (1) directivity, repetition, parallel, sequence, alternation, gradient, shifting, emission, rhythm; (2) emphasis and contrast; (3) synthesis, proportion, specification, balance, harmony, unification.

Figure I: Skidproof wristlet (Ya-Wen Tsai, Wei-Chen Chang, 2013)

Figure 1

The skidproof wristlet reduces the ice-cold feeling that senior citizens have when holding a handrail and increases handrail friction to lower tumbling risk

Figure 2

Neck Protection beautifies the neck guard that rehabilitates injured extremities and increases a patient’s willingness to wear it. This creation was selected by Red Dot Award design concept 2011.


Figure 3: Joint clips and assistive devices for the fingers (An-Ti Chang, 2012)

Figure 2. Neck Protection
(Kai-Jing Chen, 2011)










Figure 3

Joint clips and assistive devices for the fingers help arthritis patients rectify finger joint deviations. A flexible crocheted assistive device can be placed around the finger and wrist to improve fine hand movement instability. This creation was nominated by Dream Space Exhibition.


In these examples, modern craftsmanship is adopted to create the specific effect of assisting and facilitating the broad acceptance and appreciation of disability by others. Different physical conveyances imply different design applications, indicating differential values for expression of the materials and the meaning of assistance. In other words, “modern craftsmanship” provides an aesthetic of sensitivity to the user. Craftsmanship conveyed in the assistive device design shows four features:

  1. Design should not just be about the pursuit of functional demand but should reflect individual style.
  2. A receptivity to “fashion”.
  3. With the elements and principles of craftsmanship the designer creates a distinctive aesthetic.
  4. It is not just a decoration; it expresses one’s characteristics. The designer has to understand these elements and principles to create all effects.

Assistive technology is chosen for users based on the individual’s needs. The determining factors can include material challenges, product goals and the customer’s setting. Once the craft technology is chosen, it is tested and evaluated for the user. Full assistive device implementation takes place after all interested parties see the potential for growth or improvement.


Batavia, A. I., & Hammer, G. S. 1990. “Toward the development of consumer-based criteria for the evaluation of assistive devices” Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development 27: 425–436.

Biederman, I., 1987. “Recognition-by-conponents: A theory of human image understanding” Psycological Review 94: 115-147.

Davis, F, 1985. “Clothing and fashion as communication” in M. R. Solomon (ed.) The Psychology of Fashion (New York: Lexington), p.27.

HCA Yeh. 2009. “Elderly People’s use of and attitudes towards assistive devices.” Masters by Research thesis, Queensland University of Technology.

Kaijing Chen, 2011. “Healing Accessories: Lacquer Craft Applied to the Design of Orthotic Devices.” Unpublished Master’s Thesis of Department of Applied Arts, Fu Jen Catholic University.

Mace, R. L. 1998. “Universal design in housing.” Assistive Technology 10(1): 21–28.

Oskar Krantz. 2009. “Social Construction of Technical Aids Personal Meaning and Interactional Effects of Disability and Assistive Devices in Everyday Life.” See (date accessed October 1, 2014)

Parette, P. and Scherer, M. 2004. “Assistive Technology Use and Stigma.” Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities 39(3): 217-226.

Scherer, M. J. 2000. Living in the State of Stuck. How Technology Impacts the Lives of People with Disabilities (3rd ed.) (Cambridge, MA: Brookline).

Scherer, M. J. 2003. Connecting to learn: Educational and assistive technologies for people with disabilities (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Books).

Springgay, S. & Freedman, D. 2010. “Sleeping with Cake and Other Touchable Encounter: Performing a Bodied Curriculum” in E. Malewski (ed.). Curriculum Studies Handbook – The Next Moment (New York: Routledge), pp.228-239.

Marian L. Davis, Translated by Hong-Wei Li, 2004. Visual Design in Dress 1: Introduction, Visual Design in Dress 2: Elements, Visual Design in Dress 3: Principles (Taipei: Shinning Culture Publishing Co.)

Yanagi Muneyoshi, 2013. The Principle of Craft : The Origin of Japanese Hundred-Year Aesthetics of Life (BigArt Press).



Jaydan Moore and Olivia Valentine in Conversation with K. L. H. Wells

Jaydan Moore and Olivia Valentine were Fountainhead Fellows in the Craft & Material Studies Department at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) during the 2013-2014 academic year. They completed artists’ residencies, taught at the university, and their studio work culminated in a joint show at the Page Bond Gallery in Richmond, Virginia Discussing their work is K.L.H. Wells, an art historian who joined VCU for the Spring 2014 semester as their first Postdoctoral Fellow in the History of Craft. She led a conversation between the two artists on April 22, 2014, an edited excerpt of which appears below.

Figure 1: Olivia Valentine, 50mm Lens @ 22 ½ feet (State Street, Chicago), 2010-14. String and plexiglass, 101 x 212 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Kay Wells: Before we get into some of the shared issues that your work raises, I want to briefly describe what’s on view at Page Bond right now (April 4 – 26, 2014). Olivia, you are showing three of your window pieces, in which you reconstruct a specific window or a particular view through a window with the delicate medium of bobbin lace (Figure 1). You are also showing your series Field Edgings, in which you’ve taken your own 4 x 6 photographs of landscapes and overlaid them with colored threads wound around pins (Figure 2). So while your work brings together fibers and photography, Jaydan, you are working with both metal and printmaking. Your Specimens series cuts and welds together antique silver-plated objects like platters and forks, and you’ve created prints by cutting away the frames and handles of certain platters, inking them like any printing plate, and running them through a press (Figure 3). Now, in your most recent work, you show us a series of prints in which the pattern of the silver plate slowly disappears, terminating in an embossment in which we see only the shape of the plate with none of its surface decoration. Sonya Clark, the Chair of the VCU Craft Department and a fiber artist herself, likes to think of your work as fiber art as well, since your prints show us the delicate lacey patterns of these silver plates. And since lacemaking was historically a women’s occupation, let’s start with the relationship that each of you see between your work and feminism.

Figure 2: Olivia Valentine, Field Edging 10, 2012, 2012. Thread, sewing findings and photograph mounted on archival board, 8 x 10 in. Edition 2/3. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 3: Jaydan Moore, Wreath/Weave, 2013, 2013. Etching, 22 x 30 in. Courtesy of the artist, photographed by Kimberly Burgess.

Olivia Valentine: Part of my interest in talking about feminism and gender relationships often has to do with shifts in scale. I’m working something that’s usually very small at a very large scale. And I think this is fundamental in some ways to the gendered reading of my work. I’ve certainly had men tell me that I should stay working small. But Jaydan, […] thinking about this metal cloth that you’ve made Traces (2014) (Figure 4), working with the domestic object, I mean, these are things that are steeped in feminist art and feminist history?

Jaydan Moore: You know it’s one of these funny things that I think about sometimes. I’m using this material that I just enjoy for how much it’s steeped in history, in the family, and how that commemorates moments, the everyday moment. But then I also always wonder, how would it be different if I was a woman making my work instead of a man making my work?

Figure 4: Jaydan Moore, Traces, 2014, 2014. Found silver plated patters, 24 x 24 x 6 in. Courtesy of the artist, photographed by Kimberly Burgess.

OV: I think that that issue of the gender of the maker is still relevant, especially since in this post third-wave feminism – or whatever we might call our current situation – we are thinking about feminist theory.

KW: For me the fact that you are a man probably makes me think more about the makers of these metal objects. You call attention to the once industrial scale of the production of these things, and the environmental waste of that.

JM: Maybe that’s a good way to get into question of environmental consciousness. Do you think about that at all Olivia?

OV: I always do. The environmental aspect of the materials I use, that’s not really my emphasis, but certainly ideas about portability and impact in the environment. All of my work is generally very low impact as far as the spaces that I’m going into. Even though I’m interested in site-specific installation, I haven’t sought to make permanent changes to spaces.

OV: The ephemeral aspect of my work has always been important. And actually as I become more transient and more of a nomad the fact that my work takes up less and less room becomes more and more important to me. I think that’s my personal ecology, and by extension a more global ecology. Certainly in the work I was doing in Turkey a year ago, which is lightly represented here, I was very much thinking about that. My initial proposal for that work was to do site-specific landscape installations. And when I finally got out to into the land, the thought of bringing material into the land was horrifying to me, it seemed uninteresting and inappropriate.

KW: So your goal is to keep the literal footprint of your work small and portable. Whereas, your work Jaydan seems to be about how hard it is to get rid of this stuff, these heirlooms that have created such a huge footprint.

JM: Well I think we’re both interested in the ephemeral and memory, or for me at least, how memory changes and slowly evolves but also deletes. Looking at my work, especially with this new print series, it’s like watching some sort of imagery slowly delete itself and lose value over time.

KW: Yes, that’s comforting in a way, that material objects don’t mean as much to us as we might assume. So these objects are actually more fragile than we might think.

JM: They’re more fragile in the construction process. That’s the challenge. And I would love to high-temp solder these things but the nature of what I want to keep, the layer of hand use, the layer of the silver plate, that will all get deleted if I go any higher. There’s a situation where I think I’m looking at the material and trying to get the most out of it, so whatever pieces are left over from these plates becomes the cloth piece, Traces, or I have a huge pile of it back at home.

KW: Jaydan, I am really struck by these new prints that you’ve done which are so, I don’t even know how to describe them, so thick, or they have such depth… In other words it doesn’t just seem like a two-dimensional representation, it’s really a three-dimensional object.

JM: I think commemoration has been a major part of my interest in art making and in my life. Not to get too in depth but my family makes tombstones, so that commemoration of a person has been a major part of my history, and so I’ve always been interested in how to commemorate these objects and kind of value them to show their use, to commemorate their value through use. These aren’t things that are made out of fine silver like in the eighteenth century, but in a weird way they are commemorating those by reproducing them on a mass scale. The historical imagery that’s within them becomes more valued, and now with this new body of prints, I’m again trying to let that commemoration go a little bit too, by slowly deleting and dilapidating, sanding these materials down until they’re almost completely gone.

KW: For the viewer of your work Olivia [there is a sense] that these things may refer to images; there is a pictorial quality to them. But I want to do more than look. I want to touch these things, and I want to think about how you touched them in order to make them.

OV: The way my process works, though, is that I invest weeks if not months into creating a pattern based on a photograph or a drawing. I invest anywhere from a month to four months or six months working off of that pattern, and then I take it off. So the process has always been predominant for me. In many ways, I don’t necessarily care what comes off the other end. And maybe in that sense being an object maker for me is problematic.

KW: Because you’re more of a process artist.

OV: I’m very much so.

KW: Well that’s an interesting way to think of the relationship of your work to craft. I’ve been talking to my students a lot this semester about how the process artists of the 1960s and 1970s have been theorized in terms of craft, how craft is often defined as being more concerned with process than with product. And it strikes me Jaydan that in your work, of course you’re kind of materializing that with these prints that slowly delete themselves; you’re putting the process on display […] On the one hand your process seems very clear and straightforward and then on the other hand it seems sort of magical.

JM: Or convoluted. My only throw to how that might be happening is that it’s such a simple idea, of just cutting two things together and trying to make them fit perfectly. I think it’s something that we all have done on some scale.

KW: Like a puzzle.

JM: Yeah, like a puzzle. And that’s pretty much what it is. So it’s really just a jigsaw pattern of going back and forth until they fit.

OV: Well, that’s interesting. There’s an aspect of concealment that’s happening, maybe even throughout your work.

JM: […] There’s a difference to each piece for me on process, and I think that’s maybe what gets to your point about where we show technique and skill. I don’t call myself a printmaker even though I do that for half of my work. That is a total process-driven project for me. Like, what will happen if I cut this plate, and I have to print it to see what happens. [My printing practices are] very process driven and I don’t really care what the final print looks like. Whereas the final product for the silver plates is much more important to me.

KW: It’s interesting you say that you think of yourself as a metal smith rather than a printmaker, because historians think that European printmaking develops from gold smithing, specifically.

JM: Well I kind of love that notion that, Olivia said this too that she looks at things from the photography standpoint but she uses fibers for her work. I have been trained as a metal smith, and I come to everything I make from the metal smith’s standpoint. Like in printmaking, I cut a plate—

KW: It’s just another way of working with metal.

JM: I have long conversations with the printmaking teachers about oh, have you used this paper or have you used this ink, and I’m just like, ‘which one should I use? I just want to cut the plate, you know? [laughs] Like I’m looking at the plate, and as much as that’s an important part of printmaking for all of them, because they’re making an image and they’re invested in all the notions of printmaking whereas I’m focused on the plate.

OV: My pieces are often about constructing a photograph. For me this history of being a photographer is a fundamental part of my identity. It’s a way I have made my living and has been a big part of my practice in the past. The photographic idea of making versus taking an image is important to me.   […] Well Jaydan, I’m really curious about this aspect of you concealing your process. Actually the more we’re talking the more I’m realizing that you conceal a lot. Thinking about the history of contemporary art or art since 1950, why? Why are you concealing so much?

JM: You know, I don’t know.

KW: Well it’s about craftsmanship, the sense of guild secrets, right? He’s not going to give it all away. He’s a craftsman.

JM: What do you think it is that I’m concealing?

OV: Well you said the back of your plates holds a lot of information about how they’re made. But you don’t show us the back, and I think you do that pretty consciously. And this might be the purist in me talking, but the fact that you made a whole other plate for this embossment is also an illusion.

JM: Yes, and that actually frustrates me. The purist in me is actually rather frustrated every time I see the embossments, because I’m just like, those aren’t real! [laughs] You know even though I took tracings of the first ones so it’s the exact same shape, but I feel the same way.

KW: I want to ask you about the Anonymous Was a Woman series by Miriam Schapiro. She was highlighting that the makers of all these very finely crafted works in lace and crochet are anonymous, so I’m just wondering if that has resonance for your work, especially since once you print your silver plates, we can see how much their patterns resemble lace?

JM: I guess the resonance is that I’m interested in being able to. With the plates, I’ve printed the same print a few times with different plates, so it’s the exact same platter, just from a different person, so a third, a fourth, a fifth. And that intrigues me because they all look different from how the use has changed and altered them. That’s where the platters started up, talking about sexuality. The platter series started, with this Mitosis piece (Figure 5). In that series, those are all the exact same platters, some of them have been chrome plated, you know, some of them are in editions.

Figure 5: Jaydan Moore, Mitosis, 2013, 2013. Found silver plate platters, 10 x 119 x 1 in. Courtesy of the artist, photographed by Kimberly Burgess.

KW: So you found that many different versions of the same platter.

JM: I found that many, and there’s probably a thousand more out there, but they’ve all been used differently from each person that’s owned them. And that’s what’s intriguing me, that they look exactly the same when they come out on the production floor, and that, to get more broad, we all have this similarity in common, but then through how we use that similarity it becomes something completely different.

KW: Right, in the sense that we all have this genetic likeness that then becomes expressed differently. I hate to end this conversation, but by way of a conclusion, I want to ask you both how you think this year at VCU has changed your practice? OV: For me, certainly being in a craft department is a very new thing. I know Jaydan has had a lot of history with that. I don’t. My graduate school program was not a part of that, necessarily, though we discussed the word craft quite a bit. And so that has presented some really interesting things for me, but also I would say a fair number of challenges as far as thinking about my approach to teaching and my approach to work and how that might differ from “the craftsman” shall we say, in reference to the discussion we had earlier.

JM: I think it’s really interesting though that this is the first university where I’ve had some sort of craft delineation. Seeing how different universities deal with craft and deal with each other’s departments is really intriguing. VCU prides itself on having all the crafts delineated and connected together. But then sculpture and printmaking are separate entities, so where I went to grad school and undergrad, there maybe wasn’t as much of a connection between the fields of craft but there was much more mixing of sculpture, painting, photography. And that all has to do with architecture. At my grad school [UW-Madison], most of the studios were together except for ceramics and glass, which was off on a new campus, which wasn’t too far but it was this separation. Whereas here, it’s very funny that most of it’s in one building, but there’s this line of the levels, you know the floors.

KW: Right, sculpture is on the bottom. Craft is in the middle. Painting and printmaking are on the top floor.

JM: That is the weird thing to me.

OV: To me that’s a really interesting thing too, because I did my undergrad at the Rhode Island School of Design, which is another approach to things, and they had this differentiation between the design and the fine arts, and I was in the fine arts part of the school. But even in all of the fine arts disciplines at RISD, because you were actually really embedded in the major as an undergrad you had to learn all of the craft of your medium in a pretty specific way. And in some ways I feel that actually the students at VCU in the craft department have a lot more fluidity and freedom to intermingle between the different areas in the department, between metals and fibers and glass. That raises curricular issues that are interesting and sometimes challenging, when you have students who come to fibers from all different places, but that’s been an interesting teaching challenge.

KW: I had a lot of interdisciplinary training, in my masters program [also at UW-Madison] through material culture and visual culture and then also in the PhD program [at University of Southern California] through visual studies. And those models had differences among them, but I would say that in the research end of academia the idea of interdisciplinarity seems to be settling out as a process by which everyone develops their own disciplinary expertise, but then they have courses or reading groups or symposia together. I think people really don’t want to lose that specific skill set […] but that doesn’t mean that you can’t read each others work or …

OV: … or have a discussion. I think that discussion has really become personal to me because I do have this history as a photographer, but then I also do get praised for my level of skill that I come to with textiles. But it actually is not a skill that comes from training. I did not have a teacher in that way, I’m an autodidact with a lot of the textile techniques I utilize.