Master Mender: Ceramics Division

Broken china heirloom? You can get it restored at Terra Nuova Ceramic Restoration

A friend who believes my blogging life means I have umpteen resources at my fingertips e-mailed me the following question:

“I have an antique china saltbox that my grandmother treasured because it belonged to her mother. My mother treasures it, too. Unfortunately, it’s broken in half and has a piece missing. Do you know of anyone who can do a restoration on this worthless but emotionally charged heirloom?”

After hours of research (OK, 15 minutes), I located someone who does just such repairs: Roger Krokey, whose business, Terra Nuova Ceramic Restoration, is conveniently located in Rhinebeck. Krokey is a master restorer who can mend things to varying degrees, depending on your wishes and bank account. “I can simply glue the pieces back together,” he says. “Next best would be considered ‘museum repair,’ ” a limited restoration in which chips and cracks are filled with material similar in color. Or he can do a full restoration: molding and attaching any missing bits, repainting and restoring the object to its original glory. “I don’t like to use the term “invisible,” but a full restoration is very difficult to detect, except by experts,” he notes.

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Krokey, who lived for many years in Tucson, was previously a chemist, an IBM-er, a painter and a potter — all of which “blended to create a skill set that’s perfect for ceramic restoration,” he says. Well, maybe not working for IBM, but that was what brought him and his wife, Jennifer, to the Hudson Valley.

vaseLooking as good as new: A French Quimper vase went from 51 pieces to one

The ceramic restoration business came about by chance. In 1993, the Krokeys decided the family should cut down on television, and as Jennifer moved a credenza to unplug it, a pot fell off and broke. “It was an 800-year-old Peruvian stirrup pot. It had great sentimental value; it meant a lot to me,” says Roger, who threw the pieces away, upset. Minutes later, the husband of a young friend who was dying called to ask the Krokeys to come to say goodbye — which put being upset over a broken pot into painful perspective.

About a month later, Roger mentioned to his wife that he wished he’d tried to repair the stirrup pot, and found that she had fished the shards out of the trash. “She’s a saver,” Krokey says. He repaired the pot, and enjoyed doing it so much, he went on to apprentice with a ceramic restorer, and launched his business full-time in 1996, when IBM issued another round of “thanks-and-goodbye” announcements.

plate chargerCirca 1720 Delft Adam and Eve charger, before and after restoration

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It’s such a Hallmark type of tale that Hallmark actually made a little film of the story, which you can view at Terra Nuova’s Web site, Thanks to Hallmark, Krokey gets calls from klutzes across the country who want their treasures repaired. “Many of my customers are in the antiques trade,” he says. “But my greatest pleasure is to repair things that have meaning for someone, a memory of a person or a time or in their life.”

Does the cost of mending sentimental objects usually exceed their value? “Often the answer is yes,” Krokey replies. “But when people ask, Is it worth repairing? — that’s not a question for me to answer.”

His “before and after” shots suggest nothing’s beyond help. “It sounds like I’m patting myself on the back,” says the low-key Krokey, “but so far I’ve always been able to please the customer. Sometimes people can’t believe the repair — they accuse me of making a new one.”

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