Picking Up the Pieces

Whatever calamities befall your priceless porcelains — from hurricanes to toddlers — porcelain restoration expert Jeanne Stallworth can set them right.
Photographed by Cheryl Gerber
Jeanne Stallworth with Sacred Heart’s Virgin Mary

Many years ago, a beloved family friend gave Philip and me a beautiful set of 12 antique Sevres dessert plates, and for years we displayed them in an early 1800s buffet de corps in our living room. In the same room, we placed on a tall pillar a modern ceramic sculpture called Proud Parent. Whether it was Katrina’s wind or the water, we don’t know, but somehow one plate was split in two, leaving us with what our black humor called “a complete set of 11” dessert plates and a now-decapitated Proud Parent. Our quest to save these led us to Jeanne Stallworth of Cerami-Cure.

Stallworth works out of a small Day-Glo lime-green studio in Uptown New Orleans. Like her studio, the petite artist packs a bold statement. She has restored almost every kind of china, porcelain and mixed media available and treats each piece — no matter its intrinsic worth or complexity — with the greatest respect for detail. “OK, I’ll admit it,” she says with a sigh. “I am very perfectionistic and tend to get overly involved in the process.”
Perfectionistic she is. Neither our Sevres piece nor our modern sculpture bears any trace of repairs.

She’s undaunted when presented with a box of broken china and in fact relishes the challenge. Recently a local family brought her a 4-foot-tall 1800s vase that was smashed to bits by a young child as he ran through their living room. The vase had been in the family for generations, had great sentimental value and was appraised in the six figures. But now, in a gazillion pieces, it was worthless.

Stallworth spent months bonding the pieces, some almost microscopically small, together. “I tried to save every single piece to help maintain its authenticity,” she says. She carefully filled the break lines and delicately sanded the edges. Each minute artistic element was airbrushed so no detail was lost, and then she glazed and buffed the piece to its former luster. Today, the vase is back to its rightful place as the centerpiece in its original living room, and the owners could not be more pleased.

Local antique stores and auction galleries call on her services regularly. She lists Newcomb, faience and Chinese potteries among her favorite pieces to restore, and she recently added antique mirrors to her résumé. For large artifacts, she will go on-site.

“I find there is a need to restore church adornments, and I’m fascinated by some of the art that needs repair,” she says. For example, Stallworth restored the broken hands on a 1940s statue of the Virgin Mary for the Academy of the Sacred Heart, which had been damaged during a move. The plaster statue will be unveiled at this year’s May crowning, a special day for all the students and parents, and Mary’s hands will be as beautiful as ever.

Likewise, when Chabad Jewish Center’s three-dimensional hanging sculpture of a burning bush experienced damage during Katrina, Stallworth and a colleague were called in. For days she restored the enamel while her coworker renovated the metal, leaving the piece in its earlier pristine condition.

“I am heart and soul and preservationist,” she says. “With enough time and tools, I can restore almost any broken porcelain.”

Stallworth found her niche through the back door but always knew that she would pursue the arts. A graduate of Mount Carmel Academy and Louisiana Scholars’ College at Northwestern State University, she initially used her fine arts degree to work in galleries and then as a painter and sculptor. When she was introduced to the process of repairing fine art, she knew she’d found her place. “It was a dream come true,” she says.
Stallworth sought apprenticeships with local and national restoration experts and in 2000 set up her own shop.

Her career path should have come as no surprise. Located on a shelf in her studio is the first piece she ever “restored” when she was only 9 years old. A small white china panda bear bank still wears the scars of a serious accident and her effort to repair the damage. The cracks are in plain view, and the drips of Elmer’s glue have seeped out. But the bear is still in one piece and serves as a reminder to her that many careers are rooted in our childhoods — and with a little time, talent and love, a broken treasure can be made whole again.

Tips for Caring for Your Restored Pieces

  • All restored works should be treated with extra care. If you need to clean the surface or dust, use a slightly damp cloth. Do not use detergents.
  • Do not use restored items for eating or drinking. Once a piece has been restored, it should be for display unless otherwise noted by the restorer.
  • Avoid direct sunlight. Prolonged heat exposure may result in discoloration or chemical weakening of the piece over time.
  • Keep your restoration agreement form, photos of your item and any information about the piece in a safe place to preserve its history.
Categories: Theatre + Art