This piece and I have gone on an amazing journey together this summer.

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In the beginning I was unsure of what I was going to make in honor of our friend Gail. I began exploring the idea before her passing as we walked with our friends in their process of shock, anger, hope, then sadness, acceptance and profound loss. Each day brought a new hurdle, new information, ways to help, and times of being helpless.  It has been an overwhelming summer to say the least.

In talking with Gail’s partner Dale, we discussed what has been meaningful in her life, places she has loved, and ideas that fueled her love of life. At the same time, a sharing website was started and stories poured in about Gail’s impact on others, her wit, her gifts and the loss everyone was only beginning to feel.  I began to spend time almost every day reading and rereading passages from relatives, prior and current students, colleagues and the many friends in her life.  I knew these stories had to play a part in the piece I created. How? I had no idea, but I knew I would figure it out.

I threw tall, narrow cylinders and stocky, wide forms. I tried stamping, carving, pressing and pulling. I kept her love of fall and the leaves changing in the back of my mind along with conveying her light from the inside out. I researched imagery online and at grocery, book and kitchen stores. The form was starting to take shape.  After several hours of carving I learned my first lesson- in carving from the bottom up, the top becomes too heavy and cave in results. Time to begin again.

Another idea grew from wanting the attendees at Gail’s memorial to feel the connection to one another and have a remembrance to take with them from that day. I knew I was crazy to add more layers to the work already before me, but I knew it was the right direction to be heading. I’ve always believed in collaborative celebration. Growing up Catholic I appreciate tradition and ritual, but have never liked the idea of being a spectator and not a participant in what is happening. Ever since I started creating ceremony vessels, there has been an intention of creating an opportunity for connection with all involved. I believe thatwas also part of the intention of Gail’s Celebration of Life memorial service.  This thought process resulted in over 250 leaves for attendees to take with them. The leaves remaining from the memorial event are still be shared with family who were unable to attend and students who have felt a special connection to Gail as their mentor.

As the form came together and moved through the glazing phase, I thought about all thosewords; many, many heartfelt sentiments. I began to pull out the essence, the themes, the deeper meaning of who she was to many and a select few. It was painstaking coming up with varying font styles to separate one thought from another without being too different or too redundant. Then there was the application, one by one, of each decal, row by row. Was it balanced? Were the words completely horizontal? Did it flow around the piece like I intended?

Right up until almost the very last moment I couldn’t help but obsess about how the piece came together, wondering if it was successful. I had been so close to it and like a tree right in front of me, I could no longer see the forest. Dale  introduced me and explained who we are to each other. I was to then explain the whys and hows of this piece that had been with me for so long and now was going to be given it’s purpose. I had no idea what words would come to me once I stood up there. Afterwards I was told I did well, it was beautiful, and I barely remember a minute of it. I looked in all their sad eyes looking at me, and the words just came. I looked at Dale and my heart was heavy. I looked at this piece amongst a hundred tealights to be lit, and felt at home; proud, satisfied and transformed.

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