Restoring a Dog of Foo
Post by Caroline Morris (daughter of Harold and Angela Hillier) April 2020
It was January 2017, and I had bronchitis for the first time. Confined to the sofa, I switched on the TV earlier than usual, and watched a fascinating programme called The Repair Shop. What really caught my attention was the re-creation of a shattered vase by Kirsten, their resident ceramicist. From an object that had been broken into many pieces, she produced one that was perfect. We had been wondering how we could repair one of our two Dogs of Foo (as they are called in China), which had been damaged en route to France the previous year. She was already in a bad state, as I remember her being knocked off my father’s desk at Pentlow Mill by Russet the spaniel. He stuck her head together again, but he didn’t have Kirsten’s skills, and mine were even less than his.
I emailed the BBC, who forwarded my mail to the Repair Shop production company. I heard nothing from them, and had decided to contact Kirsten myself to see if she would have a look at Mrs Dog. A week before we left for England I was contacted by Ricochet, the production company, saying they would be interested in having me and the broken Dog of Foo on the programme. Many emails followed with exact details of the damage, together with photos of the perfect Dog and the broken one. The date for the first filming was fixed for July, and conveniently it was to take place in an open air museum within easy reach of Chiddingfold, where we would be staying with Josh and Becca.
The day dawned and Mrs Dog and I drove down to the Weald and Downland museum in West Sussex. I was feeling slightly apprehensive, but the programme makers were a really nice group of people. I had been asked to send the history of the Dogs of Foo, and how we came to have them in the family. Foo dogs are actually lions and are symbolic, protective statues – one is female and one is male. I thought they may well have started life in the late 19th century at Dennartt, my great-grandfather William Venn Drummond’s house in Shanghai, where I liked to think of them guarding the doors- see https://www.hpcbristol.net/visual/hi-s080 and https://www.hpcbristol.net/visual/hi-s082. Subsequently, my grandparents, Harry Mason and Maggie Hillier, will have brought them back to England when they left China in 1910 and went to live in Waldron, Sussex - see https://colonialfamilies.wordpress.com/ They were then inherited by my father when Harry died in 1924. Having told them what I knew, I left Mrs Dog with Kirsten.
With Kirsten and Jay Blades one of the production team
The second filming session - the retrieval of Mrs D in her perfect state – took place on my birthday, August 5th and we drove down again. The sun was shining, I had already met the crew, and Kirsten was smiling, which gave me confidence. But, nothing is more difficult than having to walk 200 metres towards a barn where the filming is to take place, looking relaxed, while the camera is actually under your nose. And of course, having to answer the question broadcasters like better than anything else: how are you feeling? They want your eyes to fill with tears, but I’m afraid mine didn’t. When the blanket was whisked off Mrs Dog, I really was feeling delighted and truly amazed, as Kirsten had done such a first class job. New teeth had been created, the colours of the glaze, yellow and green, exactly copied and many minute shards reunited. Kirsten (who I discovered had previously worked at the British Museum) had made Mrs Dog back into a perfect 19th century Foo Dog. The companion Dog was there too, as a point of reference, and we were able to see them both side by side at the end.
It was a very lionesque day, with two perfect Dogs of Foo arriving on August 5th, during the zodiac sign of Leo, and subsequently learning that Kirsten and the Producer shared the same birthday, just one day after mine.
We brought both Dogs back to Aups at the beginning of September, where we hope they will continue to live ‘happily ever after’. The programme was broadcast in Spring 2018, and our grandchildren came to stay with us in Aups at the same time. Maggie and Eva decided they were going to produce a portrait of the Dogs. After several hours of hard work the masterpieces were duly finished and signed, and went into the Visitors’ Book. I sent a copy of these to Kirsten, who then put them onto her Instagram page.