The Portland Hospice Potters Network aims to create a system of support for terminally ill patients under hospice care and their loved ones by linking them to local ceramic artists. The creation of a vessel, either as an urn for cremated remains or as a memory object, has the potential to play an important role in the process of end-of-life care. There is a significant historical and cultural connection between ceramic vessels and the rituals of birth and death: ceramic funerary urns have been used across cultures from as early as the 8th millennium BCE and some communities, like the Mogollons of the American Southwest created Mimbres bowls for people at birth which were later pierced by a stone to release the soul upon death.
The Portland Hospice Potters Network attempts to investigate the following questions:
- What specific support can functional ceramicists provide the terminally ill and people who support them?
- Can the thoughtful design, creation, and possession of a vessel provide comfort to people at the end of their lives?
- How might potters create meaningful objects for these individuals while preserving the systems of support that have been carefully put in place to help hospice patients?
- In what ways can this network create linkages between two communities that wouldn’t normally come into contact with each other?
- How does the creation of a network such as this lead to greater understanding between healthcare providers, patients and their families, and creative practitioners?
By supporting the production of ceramic vessels for hospice patients, the Portland Hospice Potter’s Network has the potential to not merely connect communities, but also to create a new community that transcends boundaries of vocation, class, age, language, religion, nationality, and gender in a transformative fashion.
In 1987 I lost my great-Aunt to cancer. She died in our home in Rochester, New York and was supported by a generous network of Hospice care providers. Later I trained to be a Hospice volunteer so that I could offer some of the same comfort that my family and I received. In 2014 I lost my father to cancer and remember driving from Fremont, California – where he passed – to Berkeley to visit Mary Law’s studio and to select an urn for my father’s ashes. The size, the weight, the color, the knowledge that this was made by an artist for whom I have such high regard, all provided some comfort – not just to me, but to my family – during this difficult time. We were at ease knowing that my father’s ashes were not going to be placed in an anonymous, plastic container, but would be held inside a vessel that Mary had designed and created with her hands. That urn transmitted the attention and care of a lifelong ceramic practice that Mary embodies, and did more than just hold my father’s ashes, but also created an invisible but omnipresent structure of support to soothe our mourning.
My undergraduate and graduate degrees are in functional ceramics, and my passion for this plastic yet durable material is ongoing. I am convinced that there is a broader connection to be made between these significant experiences in my life – the loss of people you care deeply about and the joy one can find in the medium of clay.
Sanjit Sethi, 2017