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Downers Grove family finds beauty in the broken

DOWNERS GROVE – Last November, Paul Pustelnik said he felt, for lack of a better word, broken – stressed, over-worked and over-extended.

Help came from an unexpected place.

"I actually saw a Facebook meme that had a picture of a broken bowl that was repaired with gold," Pustelnik, 49, said. "And it said Kinsukuroi – Japanese art of mending broken pottery with gold. And the line that caught me was that it was considered 'more beautiful for being broken.'"

The comments below the photo showed the art form had resonated with scores of Facebook users, some of whom were posting comments about the difficulty finding Kinsukuroi pottery, also called Kintsugi, for sale online.

Soon he found himself with his children at Goodwill, looking for some pottery to break and repair.

"The first ones we glued were just a disaster," he said. "My son glued one of our first bowls to our kitchen table."

Soon he and his four kids got the hang of it, using sand buckets to hold the shards in place as each piece is meticulously glued back together.

After completing a handful of bowls, Pustelnik, a professional web designer, launched a website with the hope of selling a bowl, or maybe two.

Quickly, he said, the orders started coming in. By February they added an Etsy store, and now he said the family is selling about 10 bowls a week, worldwide, to the ring of $30 or $40 each, depending on the difficulty of the mending.

Breaking and fixing the bowls has become equal parts artistic outlet, group therapy and business lesson for the family, he said.

"We love the whole thought of 'Here's all these things nobody thought much about,'" he said. "We break them, we fix them with gold, and now they're treasured by people."

Instead of using a real gold lacquer, Pustelnik and his four children, ranging from 10 to 17 years old, glue the bowls back together and then paint over the cracks with a gold paint. He said that helps maintain costs and keeps the prices affordable for customers.

"They see the value beyond the money," he said. "We talked about what this piece means to people. To have a piece sitting on a table for someone who is trying to correct their life is an amazing thought to me."

Nine months after feeling at wit's end, Pustelnik said Kintsugi was the key to his seeing the importance of struggle, of breaking, and of overcoming.

"You don't just break once in your life," he said. "You're constantly breaking in some way. There's absolutely nobody that hasn't felt broken at least one point in their life. Breaks are almost necessary, and almost a gift in some way. It flipped my life around."


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