Fabian China and Glass Repairs

If it's broke, fix it.

Behind the scenes at Fabian China and Glass Repairs, a motley gathering of shattered vases, chipped crystal glasses and limbless ceramic figurines line the countertops. A small German porcelain ballerina stands mid-pirouette, arms raised, a vacant space where a finger should be pointing from her tiny hand. A Limoges porcelain platter sits destitute, with a small plastic bag of shards lying beside it, ready to be pasted back in their rightful places. Crystal, ivory, jade, cloisonné enamelware, antiques and ornaments abound, in varying degrees of disrepair: broken, cracked, rusting, chipped, and faded. And at the centre of the mayhem, carefully picking her way through her small workshop of broken beauties, is the matriarchal Elizabeth Fabian. Gently handling each piece, she describes how the fragile items arrived broken at her doorstep, and how she goes about repairing the lot of them, singlehandedly.

Thirty-eight years ago, Fabian China and Glass Repairs was opened on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive by Fabian, who still runs the shop today. Originally from Hungary, she worked as a dressmaker for many years before she succumbed to her love of repairing of old treasures. “This is what I love to do,” she says, “and it’s very, very rewarding.” Now located in Burnaby, her diverse client base includes repeat customers, private collectors, art galleries, restoration companies and museums. Though apprentices have helped out in the past, Fabian currently works alone, and her expertise is evident in her wait list—on average two months long, depending on the details and difficulty of the job.

At her store, Fabian houses thick albums full of before-and-after photographs of each repair—keepsakes of many a job well done. Flipping through one of these tomes, she points out a “before” photograph of broken ceramic oranges, a piece by Canadian artist Gathie Falk; the “after” picture is a seamless work of genius. Waving her hand over the albums, Fabian reflects upon her life’s work. “It’s amazing to think that so many of these pieces have gone through the centuries, survived all the wars. I have worked for maritime archaeologists on fragile glass artifacts … plates that were under the sea for who knows how many years. The preservation of the past, you know, that’s what I love.”

In one memorable instance, a European gentleman arrived at the store with an enormous box of ceramic pieces, the remnants of a prized family statue destroyed when his childhood home was bombed during the Second World War. Ever since, he could not bring himself to part with the remains. Without photographs of the statue and with just a simple description of “a young boy dressed in corduroy”, Fabian didn’t have much to go on. But of course, she was undaunted. With a little guesswork and a lot of handiwork—each line of ceramic “corduroy” needed to be individually repaired, and many replaced—she completely recreated the statue. “When the gentleman returned to pick it up, he couldn’t say a word,” Fabian says. “Two tears just fell from his eyes.”

A well-thumbed reference book, George Savage’s Porcelain Through the Ages, sits atop the counter, for easy identification of antique ceramics. It seems no challenge or request is too great for Fabian. If a customer brings in a ceramic sculpture that’s missing a piece, she will recreate it entirely from scratch, moulding the porcelain clay by hand, glazing it and firing it in her kiln before attaching it, often with an invisible finish. “I’ve done ears, tails, feet, fingers, hands, lots of flowers, handles—almost everything,” she says. Oftentimes, when a customer doesn’t have a photograph of their item pre-breakage, Fabian makes an educated guess as to how the missing piece should look. “You have to think to yourself, which way is that dog’s leg supposed to stand or which colours should I paint the flowers—what specific shade of yellow, or should it be burgundy? And certain ceramics are very soft; you have only one shot at repairing them—if you goof it, it will show forever.” She stops and thinks for a second. “You know, there are no shortcuts in this business. It’s a good thing I love a challenge.”

Photos: Fabian China and Glass Repairs.

UPDATE: Fabian China and Glass Repairs has closed.


Post Date:

Mar 19, 2010