Gravity Is her best friend

Helene Morse in her studio. Photo by Hannah Metzger.
Helene Morse once found a box on her Ormond Road front porch. Taped to the top was the note, “I hear you mend broken hearts.” Inside was a porcelain figurine, in pieces.

“Every broken thing, whether it’s a turkey platter, a grandmother’s vase, a souvenir of a honeymoon--it has a story attached,” says Morse, founder of H.S. Morse Conservation Services. “I listen to a lot of wonderful reminiscing.”

Morse grew up in Shaker and Cleveland Heights, and began learning restoration while still in high school—not that this was her idea. She comes from a long line of eccentric artists and entrepreneurs, and was only helping out with the family business, Senders Gallery.

After receiving her B.F.A. in sculpture from the Tyler School of Art, a division of Temple University, in Philadelphia, she returned to Cleveland. During the ‘80’s, while raising two daughters, she began doing some restoration work on her own. As her reputation spread among antique dealers and private collectors, she soon found herself with as much work as she could handle. It wasn’t long before she received her first really big commission: repairing the china and personal effects of President Garfield for the National Historic site at Lawnfield.

“I told my friends, 'guess what I’ve got down my basement? President Garfield’s toothbrush holder!'”

She’s got stories, all right. On assignment from the Cleveland Play House, in conjunction with the Cleveland Police Museum, she restored the death mask of a victim of the infamous Torso Murders. Another job was a pair of Tang Dynasty burial horses that fell off the back of a get-away truck during a robbery. A five foot tall Chinese vase once lay in her bathtub for safe keeping.

All the objects she repairs, Morse says, are very valuable, either monetarily or sentimentally. The holidays are an especially busy time, as people want to use or give family keepsakes and heirlooms that have been damaged. Working with a two part resin that is moldable but hardens like porcelain, she’s able to fill cracks and create missing pieces. She applies a combination of oil paint and lacquer. Over nearly 30 years, she has learned to finesse the look of any glaze, antique or new. Morse uses only professional, conservation-grade materials. A common challenge of her job is restoring things that people have repaired with hardware store glue, which can actually absorb clay. Often she has to re-break something in order to fix it right.

“Sometimes people bring me china that is still being manufactured, and could easily be replaced,” says Morse, who works out of her home studio. “But if I suggest that, they look at me. 'It just wouldn’t be the same,' they say.”

Morse is a fixer, but also a creator. She makes unique clay sculptures of people in their favorite settings. Working by commission, she conjures whimsical yet detailed and unique portraits, catching happy moments forever.

By the way, she mended that broken keepsake she found on her front porch. And, she hopes, the heart, as well.

To reach H.S. Morse Conversation Services: call 216-371-4758 or e-mail

Tricia Springstubb is a librarian and writer. Her book reviews appear regularly in the Plain Dealer.

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Volume 1, Issue 9, Posted 9:32 AM, 10.27.2008