After witnessing my mother’s death and cremation, these rituals, which previously carried a kind of conceptual or cerebral detachment, suddenly took on a newly visceral reality.
The indelible images of Space Suit were imprinted in my memory — the furnace, the fire, the metal rod, the ashes, the sifting, the sorting, the precision, the care.
Years earlier, I’d been introduced by a friend named Vera to a glass artist named Ethan Bond-Watts, whose art show in Burlington she and I had once attended together. When my mother was in the ICU at the hospital in Burlington, there was a meditation chapel just down the hallway, where I took respite multiple times. It was adorned with one of Ethan’s beautiful glass installations.
I contacted Ethan to inquire about making glass together. When we met up one early spring evening in a bird sanctuary a little south of here, we built a small fire in the woods at the edge of the water, and cooked a simple dinner of steak and broccoli together on the open flames.
First dinner with Ethan
I told him about my mother’s recent death and cremation, and described the ritual journey that I had begun about six months before. I described my wish to make glass using the materials of our land — mixing crushed-up linestone powder and other special elements with my mother’s cremated remains.
Neither of us realizing at the time what an odyssey we were about to begin, we agreed to work together in this way.
This ritual presents Ethan in his element — a master glass artist at work, virtuosically crafting a funeral urn using his faithful collection of tools.
Using a trick and a tool he picked up in Venice, he punctures the gummy glass with a spiraling series of air pockets in a Fibonacci distribution, rendered in my mother’s favorite color palette of pinks, violets, and blues.
Shaping the vessel
Pinching the neck
Filling the body
Adding the lip
The aesthetic parallels with the cremation are striking:
the industrial setting, the blazing furnace, the metal rod, the piles of powder, the transformation of materials, the fire, the persistence, the care
Once completed, the vessel shifts to High Acres Farm, where my sister and I funnel our mother’s cremated remains into Ethan’s newly crafted vase.
For me, this ritual carries a double request — a request of Ethan to make me a literal vessel to hold my mother’s ashes; and a request of life to make me a vessel for whatever kinds of change and transformation need to happen through me.
A Celebration of the Life of Kitty Harris — June 18, 2016