Life Life | Emi Joyce
Hello Emi! Would you mind telling our readers a bit about how you got started learning kintsugi?
There was a chance to take the instant kintsugi workshop in Portland in 2019. Then I was really interested in the traditional method too but at the same time afraid of the urushi’s allergy reaction. Eventually I decided to buy a traditional kintsugi kit and books from Japan and learned myself.
Tell us how long you've been repairing broken objects. When did you decide to start Modern Kitsugi Repair?
I’ve been repairing ceramics since then though I have to talk about my background - I used to be a bench jeweler for a custom wedding jewelry company in Japan. Besides polishing thousands of wedding rings and setting stones, I repaired lots of jewelry and liked that. Instead of creating something new from scratch, like designing jewelry, repair suits for my character. My jewelry skills and tools are so useful for kintsugi, ceramic repair too.
With my another background in the textile industry, I was going to be a natural dyer and started dye workshops since 2017. Kintsugi is getting so busier as I had to pose the natural dye.
At first I asked my friends and repaired their broken ceramic pieces for free. I volunteered for Repair Cafe’s event with other fixers such as bike or garment repair. I still have the principle, my kintsugi is a repair service rather than an art. I had no idea how to start to get repair orders, for example, I used to pick up broken ceramics at the customer’s house and delivered the repaired pieces. It was during the pandemic and I didn’t drive at the moment, so I biked for an hour to do it. Eventually I learned that customers can come by my house, haha.
Can you give us a view into your process for repairing a broken object?
Observe the object, close your eyes and imagine the finished look. That’s what the instructor of the instant kintsugi class I took for the first time taught us at the beginning. Since then it’s like a ritual for me to begin a repair and some difficult ones, I’d need to “discuss” with the object for up to a couple of weeks until getting started. Most of repair take about 3 months to complete and difficult ones would take 6 months or longer.
You offer kintsugi workshops fairly regularly throughout the year. When was the moment you knew you wanted to be a teacher?
Once I learn something I tend to share it. Just like sharing my favorite music with my friends when I was a teenager. When I’m as a natural dyer I would like to share the joy of the process rather than selling products. I never thought to be a teacher or I still don’t really like to call myself a teacher, I hesitate it. I’m simply passionated to heritage my skills and knowledge to anyone who are interested, and also I love to see people get connected through my workshop, like having a home party. And gladly, so many people are interested in kintsugi, or repairing broken ceramics in Portland so I’m so thankful for the continuous opportunity.
Similar to wabi-sabi or ikigai, kintsugi seems to be its own philosophy. What principles of kintsugi resonate with you the most?
Imperfection. Every broken ceramic piece is different, every person is different. As I grew up in Tokyo, I had always struggled with my different opinions from others, and my weak points were never accepted by adults. I survived through my teenage as I accepted myself. I admire the beauty of fractures in the broken ceramics. Mending broken pieces is literally meditative and I admire again by seeing the “landscape” of fractures decorated with gold. That gives a lot of meaning to the object, the owner of it, and me too.
What type of other passions and interests do you have beyond kintsugi repair?
Since I moved from Tokyo to Portland in 2010, my interest was shifted to the nature. I still remember that I was astonished by the tall conifers, thick and rough trunks, the green canopy from mosses to conifers, and even flowers looked much vigorous than what I’d seen in Tokyo. I love to go hiking, foraging edible/dyeable mushrooms. I’m a gardener, growing edible and dyeable plants, and specifically into native plants. As a lifelong crafter, I like sewing, knitting, natural dyeing, making baskets, and mending textiles and occasionally woodworking. I repair ceramics/pottery but I’m not a ceramicist. I’ll take a second term of my pottery class, so that’s my newest interest of craft! I listen to audio books and podcast while working kintsugi at home, and my recent favorite is a history, which I’d never interested when I was a child. I like the Portland music scene and going to see shows once in a while as that was one of the reasons to choose Portland to move.
Describe a challenging object you had to restore. What was it and why was it difficult?
Multiple broken pieces are always difficult. Some broken objects could be in more than 20 pieces. As I tell people at the workshop, planning is the most important step working with lots of broken pieces. Shaping missing fragments requires technique too, but for me it’s very similar to what I did with precious metals and the achievement is so satisfying.
Western society is incredibly caught up in the idea of perfectionism. Any insight into embracing imperfection and why it is meaningful?
I answered the question above, although, the first sentence sounds opposite to me as I think that is exactly for the modern Japan society, so interesting perspective between you and me!
We live in a world where so much of our identity is surrounded by the things we consume. How do you approach mindful living and sustainability in the context of your work and your everyday life?
I used to love fashion and my wardrobe was filled up with cheap and fast fashion items in my 20s, when there was no words like sustainable around me. It’s very important to know where the materials come from and how they are made. Once you knew them, repairing is an important life skill. I volunteer teaching in mending textiles and ceramics at my son’s school as their electives. Education is important.
Think of an object you repaired that has the most significance to you. Could you share what it is and the memory behind it?
I repaired many irreplaceable objects like family heirloom, one could be almost 100 years old platter which used in four generations by the family from Algeria and immigrated to the US, or another could be an aged coffee-stained mug which was belonged to a parent who passed away when the customer was 4. But when I repair an object, either a family heirloom or simply someone’s favorite object from a thrift store, that doesn’t really matter to me, to be fair taking care of an object.
Lastly, any exciting news or events coming up that our readers should know about?
Yes! Besides getting repair orders, Kintsugi workshops/classes are scheduled at Sumner Studio, WildCraft Studios, Shogun’s Gallery, and other places in the winter through summer in 2024. In late June, there will be the Intensive Traditional Kintsugi Class at Sitka, Art and Ecology center located in the Oregon coast. The location seems to be amazing and the new program is designed just for the class, so I’m so excited! My repair service is currently booked until further notice. Good news is that a couple of people wants to be an apprentice and I already trust their craftsmanship. There are only a few kintsugi services in the US. We need more kintsugist in Portland, PNW, and all over the world!