As humans, when we try to repair things, we aim to do it in a way that makes it look as perfect as possible, as if it had never been broken before. Kintsugi does the complete opposite.
It's a Japanese art form that draws even more attention to the flaws but highlights them in the most beautiful way by using resin, lacquer, and real 24-karat gold, adding even more value and character as the pieces begin their second life. Directly translated, "kin" in Japanese means gold and "tsugi" means joinery, together literally meaning to be joined with gold. Invented thousands of years ago, it belongs to the zen ideas of "wabi sabi", which is the belief of appreciating things of age, people and things that are rustic in its most natural beauty, and accepting all flaws.
“For the past decade, I have lived in San Francisco curating experiences for guests in the world’s finest restaurants,” Joe Weaver, a local Kintsugi artist, tells us over tea in his San Francisco apartment in North Beach, “my innate enthusiasm for the specially selected ceramics in these kitchens led me to explore the ancient Kintsugi process in order to repair pieces broken in service. I then worked to adapt this art form into something else, something that would stand up to the rigors of life in a restaurant.”
Joe is pulling examples off the shelf of past and present clients he’s worked with—all put back to together with incredible precision, like it was never broken in the first place. “I took immense pleasure in sharing the excitement with my guests as they admired the history of each piece,” he says, “each one turned into something wholly unique and more than simply the sum of its broken pieces.”
We had the chance to sit down with Joe, who has been working in high-end, fine dining restaurants for over a decade while also managing to create a whole Kintsugi and photography business on the side. He creates incredible pieces out of his closet-turned-studio in his North Beach home and now has 40k+ Instagram followers with clients as far as Zurich, Switzerland. He's repaired plates for some of San Francisco's top fine dining restaurants: Saison and Avery to name a few. You may have also seen some of his pieces at Stonemill Matcha.
How did you get started with Kintsugi and when did you first discover it?
I was working at Quince at the time and they were a huge part of how I got started. They use really expensive stuff there, obviously, on par with what Saison was using and breakage was a huge problem. It's a bigger restaurant with a lot more people and plates just break. One day, Chef Michael Tusk came out during a pre-shift holding a bag of broken plates, which probably costed thousands of dollars that had broken just in that week and he said, "If we can't figure out how to fix these, I'm gonna make an art installation and put it in front of the restaurant." He was obviously joking but I thought that was actually a pretty great idea. I had just seen an art show at Fort Mason where I saw the work of a kintsugi artist from Japan so I started taking some broken pieces home to see if I could do anything with them because they were going to get thrown away anyway.
What got you into restaurants?
I enjoy interacting with people. I worked in a lab for a really long time in Denver before coming out to California because I studied physics and math. I would go hours without seeing or talking to anyone so I loved working at restaurants.
When did you notice your kintsugi career really starting to take off?
Saison really gave me the platform for it because Chef Joshua Skenes really wanted someone to do kintsugi for the restaurant and there was this crazy synergy when I happened to start there because there was no one else really doing it. There it started to transition into more of a professional thing. I could've worked at any other restaurant and they really wouldn't have cared.
Are there any local ceramicists who you've been able to work with directly?
I connected with Lynn Mahon, a Sonoma-based artist, on Instagram and I messaged him one day asking if I could buy some of his broken pieces because all ceramicists usually have broken stuff around from when stuff just shatters. He invited me up and he said "I usually just take all my broken pieces to a dump so I don't have a lot but you can take whatever you want." So I loaded up my car and he refused to take any of my money. Such a nice guy.
Food writer, dog mom, hospitality expert, and an at-home chef.