Posted on 6/14/2013 9:35 AM by Grace Jeffers

In writing about materials I have noticed that one key difference between materials and synthetic materials is in our attitudes about wear. If a wooden object is cracked, gouged or worm eaten it has character and value but a modern material that is scratched, chipped or worn is damaged. I have often wondered why manufacturers do not design for wear more. I supposed solid materials such as solid surfacing or engineered stone hide chips and breaks better than say, wood veneer on board. But in general I think we live with an expectation that materials are supposed to last forever and look perpetually new.

The word break comes from the Old English brecan "to break, shatter, burst; injure, violate, destroy.”

The word damage is from the Modern French dommage meaning "loss caused by injury,"

And worn means “exhausted by use.”

Did you ever read the children’s book The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams? It contains one of my all time favorite passages:

"Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” 

So maybe there is a possibility that being “damaged” has something to do with being enjoyed and possibly even loved? 

I attended an exhibition at the Musee du quai Branly in Paris about six years ago. It was called Objects Blesses: La Reparation en Afrique and it shows sacred objects which had been damaged and repaired. The repair did not make them less valuable, rather it made them more precious because the repair was proof of reverence, love and care.

In Japan there is a practice called kintsukuroi which means “to repair with gold” and it refers to the practice of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer. This would draw special attention to the damage, which is done because there is a cultural understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken. 

Does a parallel exist in our culture? Could it? What could that look like?