Monday, August 9, 2010

Porcelain and Pottery restoration.

Polly Bacon, who trained under Roger Hawkins the ceramic restoration expert on the BBC's Antiques Restoration Roadshow, is a well respected porcelain and pottery restorer working from her small North Yorkshire studio. Trading under the name Bodytalk Restoration, she is a recommended restorer for several leading auction houses: Tennants of Leyburn; Watsons of Darlington and Boulton & Cooper Fine Arts of Malton.

Polly's work has been featured in Yorkshire Life Magazine (2005) and more recently, in Antiques Info Magazine. The following article was published by Antiques Info in November 2009:


Working from her small studio in the quaint Georgian market town of Richmond, set in the heart of Yorkshire Dales is Polly Bacon; an antique ceramics restorer.

Her studio, at the bottom of her garden is a veritable Aladdin’s Cave; little pots of pigment of every shade and colour, paint brushes of various lengths and sizes and delicate tools of every description adorn her worktops under the brightness of magnifying lights. Surrounded by shelves of vases, figurines, teapots, bowls, dishes and pots of every description she looks positively content in her artistic retreat.

Polly picked up a 19th century Staffordshire cow figure and smiled proudly as showed off the finished piece and explained, “I was asked by an antique dealer to make a new front leg which was obviously missing. After I finished the original work the dealer put it onto his stall at Newark Antique Fair. Two weeks later the dealer returned and told me that while he was showing it to a potential customer, it slipped from his hand and smashed into twenty three separate pieces. “Look at it now she says, “good as new, or should I say, good as old”.

Polly was formally trained in porcelain and pottery repair and restoration after many years restoring her own pottery as a collector. She trades under the name Bodytalk Restoration and has a web page; to exhibit some of her finished work.

Restoring ceramics requires a lot of patience, an eye for colour, form and structure. “Every repair is different” Polly says; “I can have two identical pieces with a hairline crack or a chip missing and the repair will be unique every time”. Looking around Polly’s small studio, there is a new teapot lid which has been made to match the original 19th century teapot. Cracks have been filled and made ready for painting; chips made good and an expensive hand painted Royal Worcester Dish, which has been completely restored and hand painted.

Polly points out, With every repair or restoration there are several stages which must be undertaken commencing with a through cleaning. The distinction between a repair and a restoration is an important one: repairs invariably include glueing the broken pieces together then filling the tiny gaps which are left behind with a compound and then rubbing it down before paint and glaze can be applied, a restoration often means a missing piece or limb must be hand made and replaced to make the item whole again.

Cleaning an item before work can commence is not always straight forward, as Polly explains “Cleaning can often reveal previous repairs or restoration work which the owner was blissfully unaware. I use anything from non abrasive biological cleaning solutions through to the most powerful chemicals on the trade market. Sometimes items can soak for several days to bring them back to life or in the case of delicate porcelains they may need a deft touch with a cotton bud which can then take up to several hours”.

Delicate porcelain can also spring out of line when broken, this may leave a shallow ridge between the two edges when glued back together. In such cases Polly says “I lay a thin layer of compound along the offending edge and then I feather it out about an inch or so before I rub it down until the raised ridge disappears. I always aim to make my repairs invisible to the naked eye”.

“A wide range of artistic skills are necessary to survive in this business”, Polly says. “You never know what job will come in next, it can be a rare 18th century teapot in need of a new lid or it can be a late 20th century Royal Doulton figurine which simply needs cleaning. Often customers can be surprised at what can be done to bring their ceramics back to life and I particularly like the challenge of a badly broken item to restore. I am saddened when I hear people say, that they have thrown a cherished or sentimental item away because they didn’t know anyone who could repair it”.

Polly has worked on many different commissions over the years and is happy to give free estimates and insurance claims estimates when requested. Her work has involved the frivolous to the fanciful and from the sentimental to the very expensive. She says “ I always try to complete a trade commission within 12 weeks and a retail customers work within 16 weeks.

Polly says, “I have found my own nirvana; where my work is my hobby and my passion, I am very lucky”. Polly Bacon is truly, 'an artist in residence'.


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