There are few pleasanter or more profitable professions for a gentlewoman who has artistic tastes and skilful fingers than that of invisibly restoring valuable broken china, statuary, and glass, a little-known art the secrets of which have hitherto been strictly kept by the trade.
Mr. Dallas, restorer to the South Kensington Museum, however, who has himself executed some marvellous pieces of work, has lately taken lady pupils into his own workshop, at 124, Cromwell Road, S.w., where he gives them a complete training in every branch of the profession, sending them out skilled workwomen at the end of a six months' course, for a fee of ten guineas, which includes the use of the workshop and all tools and materials employed.
A valuable china vase as it reached the china repairer
Students entering the workshop are expected to work four or five hours a day on at least three days a week whilst being initiated into the intricacies of cementing and riveting broken china and painting over cracks and blemishes so that the restoration is absolutely invisible - learning how to replace missing pieces in a broken bowl, for instance, with plaster of Paris, painted to match the rest of the design so closely that minute examination fails to reveal the original position of the missing part.
They also learn to fasten broken wineglass stems together again, and in cases where the stems were originally bevelled and carved, to re-cut the blown portion so skilfully that no sign is left of the process by which this miracle has been accomplished.
The restoring of broken limbs to statuary is another very interesting branch of the art. In cases where the limb has merely to be affixed again the matter is comparatively simple. Holes are bored at the correct angles, and a support or plug cleverly inserted, any cracks which remain being filled in with plaster of Paris, and the join is carefully painted over, so that no trace of it can be seen. When the limb is entirely missing - the hand of a Dresden china figure, for instance - to restore it is a far more difficult matter, calling for much skill, as the lost member has to be carefully carved in soapstone before being affixed and painted over.
Pupils progress rapidly, however, under Mr. Dallas's painstaking instruction, and one restored statue I saw, the entire work of a pupil of four months' standing, had not only had an arm restored quite invisibly, but an entirely new and most elaborate tree had been modelled, painted, and arranged to throw convenient shade beneath which the Dresden china lady could repose herself in place of the one that was missing.
Advanced pupils are often allowed when sufficiently proficient - usually after about three or four months' work - to undertake commissions for their friends, which they execute at the workshop under Mr. Dallas's personal supervision; and a clever pupil will often be able actually to earn her training fees whilst going through the course. For instance, a girl pupil received a cheque for two and a half guineas for work done in the workshop - restoring a broken teapot and putting tails to two valuable china dogs.
Endless work of every imaginable description flows in a constant stream through Mr. Dallas's hands. Valuable old carved ivories, bronzes, inlaid work, old Battersea enamels, and every imaginable sort of glass and china visit his workshop to be restored, so that pupils have the very great advantage of watching a skilled worker's methods of handling a delicate piece of difficult work; whilst as they grow more advanced they are themselves sometimes entrusted with simple jobs to execute for him, and great is the rejoicing when a small repair is passed as being up to professional standards.
China restoring is a profession which is exceedingly well paid - the invisible restoring of a china bowl, representing perhaps two and a half hour's work, would be charged for at about 7s. 6d. - and is by no means overcrowded, for there is no lack of work to be done.
Another great advantage is that the work is so noiseless, and requires so few accessories, that it can be carried on easily at a small table in an ordinary sitting-room; whilst the entire outfit - including a glass-blowing apparatus - costs from three to five guineas; and the actual materials employed - plaster of Paris, a few paints, copper wire for making rivets, and pure china clay or soapstone for replacing missing parts - are procurable very easily and are quite inexpensive.
The vase as it left the restorer's hands, completely and invisibly restored
One interesting branch of the profession is to become a visiting china restorer, one's services often being required for a week or two at a time at big country houses, when the pay works out at a guinea a day, the restorer being put up at the house or in rooms in the village, as may have been arranged beforehand.
A Dresden china coach valued at £1,000, as it appeared when smashed into seventy pieces, with two hundred fragments missing
The two photographs of a Dresden china coach, which, originally valued at over £1,000, and measuring no less than three feet in length and standing over eighteen inches high, was smashed into over seventy fragments, whilst no less than two hundred tiny pieces were altogether missing, is an interesting example of the lengths to which china restoring can be carried. The first picture shows the condition in which the coach reached the restorer, and the second picture is a photograph taken after its invisible restoration; and it is now, to all outward appearance, as good as new.
The coach after restoration, to all outward appearance perfect and unbroken as when it left the makers