Invisible Restoration

When I was 10 or 12 years old, I watched my father destroy a 19th-century Meissen service plate, a tavern scene with scarlet reticulated edges trimmed with gold leaf. Our house was like a small porcelain museum—a midnight blue Limoges tray with the textured relief of a woman’s face emerging from delicate layers of pâte-sur-pâte; art nouveau Teplitz vases decorated with pastel and metallic-tinted grapes and birds and bats; a hypnotic, cross-legged Meissen pagoda nodder, wrapped in floral patterned robes, whose pale pink tongue slid in and out as its head rocked back and forth. “Be careful” was a constant refrain as I navigated my clumsy growing body through the cluttered hallways. I knew that handling an artifact required the utmost attention and care.

The Meissen plate had once been part of the Smithsonian’s collection, and 20-odd years before, my dad acquired it in a trade after he repaired a crack in it while he was an apprentice conservationist in London. He picked it up from its folding display holder where it sat on a shelf next to another plate with a purple lily—I can’t remember why—and it just slipped through his fingers and shattered into dozens of pieces on the living-room floor. We both stood there, gaping in silence. His shaking hands collected the pieces like they were picking up the pieces of his own heart, and he placed them in a shoebox that he kept in the the back of his closet. Several times over the years I asked him if he was going to fix it, but he just shook his head and sighed… 

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