An Exclusive Interview with a Kintsugi Artist
How Kintsugi transformed the life of artist Naoko Fukumaru
“With Kintsugi, we witness the transformation from brokenness to beauty. Sometimes the objects become more beautiful because they were broken.”
In 2019, Japanese Canadian artist Naoko Fukumaru, who had worked on major conservation projects with renowned museums worldwide, found herself at a breaking point in her life.
Having sought refuge at a women’s shelter following the end of a 21-year relationship, she struggled with trauma, grief, and anxiety. “I was completely smashed,” Fukumaru says.
One day, she received an enigmatic email from a local potter inquiring about her upcoming Kintsugi workshop.
Interestingly, while Fukumaru was an expert on Western conservation methods, having worked on works such as Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, Rodin’s The Thinker, and The Tomb of Tutankhamun, she’d never practiced Kintsugi before.
Although puzzled to receive such an unexpected message, Fukumaru realized this was the path to recovery she’d been waiting for. She ordered books from Japan and worked on mastering the traditional techniques, materials, and philosophy behind Kintsugi.
This process typically takes many years to master, but with over two decades of professional Western ceramic restoration experience, Fukumaru knew that her advanced skills could directly transfer to the art and methods of Kintsugi.
A year later, Fukumaru gave the Kintsugi workshop to an eager audience that included the potter who had first contacted her.
By then, her life had turned around, and Fukumaru shifted her focus to bringing healing not only to the broken ceramics but also to their owners.
In this Q & A, the artist sheds insight into her life, Kintsugi, and the miracle of following one’s own path.
Tell us about your background as an artist.
I was born in Kyoto, Japan, to a third-generation antique auction house family. My father regularly rescued and brought back home damaged abandoned ceramics from his auction house, and every day my mother served food on those cracked or chipped ceramic plates.
Growing up surrounded by fine art and antiques, I began experimenting with broken objects at an early age, building my passion into a career. I later studied professional conservation and restoration of ceramics at West Dean College in Chichester, England, graduating with a master’s degree in ceramic and glass conservation.
I worked for over two decades as a professional ceramics and glass conservator at renowned museums such as the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum, Metropolitan Museum in New York, and other institutions in the USA, Europe, Egypt, and Japan. I feel it was my fate.
With such a rich conservation experience, what difference do you find between Kintsugi and Western traditional restoration methods?
The materials and the philosophy behind the restoration process are completely different. The European Western approach is to hide mistakes, pretending that the ceramic has never been broken.
Kintsugi allows us to accept the fragility of imperfection by highlighting these qualities with gold. This process teaches us to accept ourselves, our sufferings, and our flaws as integral elements that make each of us unique.
Like the cracks in ceramics, we come to celebrate our challenges, difficulties, and history as an important aspect of our life and identity. Our healing can be a beautiful part of who we are. With Kintsugi, we witness the transformation from brokenness to beauty. Sometimes the objects become more beautiful because they were broken.