RESTORING A LION IS A LABOR OF LOVE, to say the least. Restoring a lion is different from repairing a lion. People often do inexpensive and fast repairs with tape and touch-up paint. Restoration, on the other hand, may involve stripping a lion down to the framework and starting one or more sections from scratch. Chances are, a completely new paint job may be required to avoid mismatching paint. New materials and parts may be called for. Most lion makers aren’t interested in doing restoration work for understandable reasons. Number one, they’d rather sell you a new lion. Number two, restoration work is time-intensive and often takes longer than creating a new lion. Combine that with the expense of performing the work and it’s easy to see why restorations are done mainly on lions
coveted by collectors or on those of great sentimental value. You should know before beginning that the final cost of restoring a lion may exceed the price of a new lion, depending on the extent of the restoration. Clients who want to restore an old lion are doing so not because they want to save money, but because they want to save memories.
All restoration work requires consultation and frequent exchanges between Of Course Lion Source and our clients. Price estimates and exact quotes made on a project-by-project basis only. These are a few examples of pieces we have restored, designed and / or modified.
THIS POORLY-MADE CHILD’S PLAYTHING was found all torn up and discarded like trash. No mouth. No ears. No horn. No tail. No hope. It was like looking at an orphan. Lion head was stripped completely and started all over using the best materials to be found. Wire fins were added on top. New color plan and completely new designs painted. New tail and pants ordered to match head.
It now enjoys new life, displayed in a place of honor in a dining room overlooking a family during important get-togethers.
WE’RE GOING TO MISS THIS LION. Bits of our souls went into this project as well. Before the project began, we told the Choy Family that the restoration of this lion would be considerably more expensive than buying a brand new lion made from scratch. That did not change their decision to restore this lion to its former glory.
This lion from their childhood is close to half a century old. It was purchased in Hong Kong and given to the Choy brothers, who gave this lion a lot of love and play time. They even took it to school and let their classmates play with it too. So of course, when it got to our hands, it had big holes and lots of missing parts. The ears and their wire mounts were completely broken, dangling only by tired elastic.
The framework was what impressed us most. It was still solid and strong in most places, bound in a way that we imagine few or no commercially made lions are today. No cheaply made lion from recent years could have withstood the rigors that this lion was put through. Repairing parts of the framework inside was like seeing into the mind of the original craftsman who bound this lion head. We tried to understand what his intent was when he made the choices he made as he did his work. It was a rare privilege to study the art this way. We also let the lion tell us what needed to be repaired. When a lion talks—it’s a good idea to listen!
Just a glance at the construction will tell even the casual viewer that the master who first made this lion created it with a lot of over-the-top care and pride. Precious few child-sized lions sport the fish tail ornaments on the sides of the horn. Nobody invests that kind of time and expense in a child’s lion anymore.
We accepted this assignment with the understanding that we keep the same general appearance as the original. The painting patterns and colors were duplicated without much change. What did change, however, was the type of paint used. While we may have done little to improve upon the original paint designs, the new paint is superior to the original paint, which surprisingly rubbed off with water. A lion of this quality demanded better; it told us so! It’s now painted with oil-based enamels. A bucket of water poured over the exterior paint will just bead and roll like water off a duck’s back! Like we said—listen to the lion.
I slept well the night we returned the lion to Mr. Choy. I’ll never forget the look on his face when he laid eyes upon his lion again. Tears welled up as he struggled to maintain his composure. When he was finally able to speak again he said, “This brings back a lot of memories of my grandfather. This is the way I remember this lion looked when we played with it.” We sat and talked at length about his grandfather, his brothers, and his memories of the good times many people had with this lion. Can’t buy that online or in a store!
And so, a new generation of Choy children will have the joy of playing and dancing with a lion. Only this heirloom lion will be one of the very few that experience the joy of frolicking with multiple generations of youth from the same family. It’s a very lucky lion to know the love of its creator, several generations of Choys, and now us. We wish it many, many more generations of the same kind of love.