The Repair Shop – now in its Primetime Wednesday night slot – has continued to entertain viewers throughout lockdown, each week taking a trip to the past through some unique objects.
We’ve seen everything on the show from soldiers’ hats to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang train sets. While The Repair Shop wizards can fix up any item they come across, sometimes the biggest challenges come in the smallest forms.
One of the trickiest repairs to date is undoubtedly the papier-mâché de Bethel cat.
Find out everything you need to know about de Bethel cats here, plus more on how ceramics conservator Kirsten Ramsay worked her magic on the antique.
De Bethel cat featured on The Repair Shop
Caroline Crabtree and her daughter Jenny are from York. They travelled all the way to The Repair Shop in West Sussex to have their de Bethel cat fixed.
Caroline is the daughter of Joan and David de Bethel, who became known for their papier-mâché cats.
The de Bethel cat featured on The Repair Shop was one made by Joan for David around the time they got engaged. It was the first ever of its kind, meaning a rare piece of history and a valuable collector’s item.
As we learnt in the episode, there are thousands of de Bethel cats out there, some people collecting them en masse. They are valued in the hundreds of pounds per cat on eBay.
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De Bethel cat fixed by Kirsten
Kirsten Ramsay had quite the challenge fixing the cat, as the papier-mâché had started to flake away and the neck was significantly weakened, threatening the sculpture’s head.
Next, Kirsten had to delicately replicate Joan’s painting on the cat to fill in the missing patches.
When Caroline saw the repair work Kirsten had done, she was blown away. Caroline said:
It’s an absolutely fantastic job. I can’t see where you’ve been. Mum would’ve been so impressed to see it done so well… Absolutely everything I wanted.
Who was Joan de Bethel?
Joan de Bethel (née Burton) was an artist famous for her papier-mâché cats. She was born on November 25th, 1923 in Brighton.
Joan studied at St Martins School of Art and Design where her interest first lay with theatre and costume design. In fact, as a young student, Joan contributed to creating banners and costumes for Laurence Olivier’s Henry V. She found success throughout the 1950s in theatre.
On May 3rd, 1951, Joan met fellow artist David de Bethel. They were engaged in 1953 and in 1955, their daughter Caroline was born.
Joan and David started to work together throughout the 1960s on their de Bethel cats. David made them and Joan painted them.
Joan passed away in October 2017 at the age of 93. David had passed decades earlier in 1977.
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