Archive for the 'Grief' Category


Last month I showed a little research on Victorian mourning conventions, and some small polymer clay dishes made as part of that.

That was one component of my current experience, my exploration, my thinking about, asking questions about … if I have to choose one word, it is “grief”. That word seems both too big and too small. Accurate and missing the mark. With the assistance of my creative group, I came up with some sub-themes to explore: mourning conventions; (un-)balance (energy; tension; cycles); memory and language; relationships (such as positive and negative space).

I decided on a multi-pronged approach. Reading – in particular what I term “springboard reading”, using it as a trigger for my own thinking. Writing – exploring the ideas raised in reading etc. Experiential – beginners’ tai chi, with constant moving in circles, questions of tension, relaxation, energy, action. Material investigation – polymer clay, a means of thinking and of response.

More by-products than outcomes:

Plain Bob Minimus dish

Bellringing is a significant part of our family, and it resonates (!) with multiple themes. Mum learnt to ring when in college in Bristol, just after the second world war. She met dad ringing here in Sydney – just as I met my husband, decades later.

Around the rim is the patterning of the movement in order of bells sounding in Plain Bob Minimus. Following convention, the treble is in red, the course of one bell highlighted with a blue line. Bronze clay is meant to suggest bell-metal; red-white-blue is classic colouring of sallies. The central patterning (using my new extruder tool) is intended to suggest the reverberations of the bells.

Grief, hope, energy and renewal

Feathers came from reading Max Porter’s Grief is the thing with feathers. The clay technique is from Clay Zoo – I particularly liked the movement he creates. The background mix of colours was intended to suggest the “oil slick” iridescence of black feathers, but also hope – in the original quote from Emily Dickinson which was the source of Porter’s title. She wrote “Hope is the thing with feathers”. The bright green is a flurry of movement, the continuous circling of energy of tai chi, the colour of fresh growth.

There were quite a few technical challenges making this. The oil-slick cane was prepared with layers like a slab for mokume gane. Cutting into in to insert the feathers was tricky. For the cycles of the rim, I wanted to use another Clay Zoo approach, but adapting it wasn’t straightforward. I’m quite surprised that the overlaying of three complex patterns works visually.

Work in progress – un-balance, the space between, circling movement

This stabile uses leftovers from my orange-turquoise investigation (31-Aug-2021). That explored the nuances between colours, the threshold times of dawn and dusk. I’m living with it for a while, deciding on finishes. I think an understated gleam perhaps.

I was hoping to unsettling the eye by making hollow beads of different sizes, then using fill to make the small ones heavier, the balance unexpected. An idea to carry forward, as I don’t think it has been successful here.


Eavan Boland wrote of going to the past “not to learn from it, but to change it”, of finding herself standing “as a subversive historian, ready to edit the text”, of a freedom to “return to the past with the discoveries of the present. And then to return triumphant to the present with a changed past.” Boland was writing of the poetic canon, its impact on young women poets. I have been revisiting my own remembered family past, and finding both that history and my current self changed in the process.

Searching for colours associated with memory, I found an article by Jacob Olesen, referencing the work of Inna Segal. She sees lemon as “warmth and intellect”, fuelling the brain, decision making, concentration, while mauve indicates peace and tranquillity, reduces imbalances, boosts brain power and memory.

Lavender on Phillip Island

That took me to a photo of a field of lavender mum and I saw back in October 2012. I added a the dull green leaves to my palette of lemon and mauve, but optical colour mixing given the scale of the final dishes gives a green tinge overall.

The component canes from from Alice Stroppel, Nee Nee Ree and Clay Zoo. I wanted open-ended swirls, a suggestion of the malleability of both memory and cane, the repetition and reinforcement of memories in our minds, the way we piece memories together, make patterns and narratives for ourselves.

I’ve brought the work together in different ways.

Another hexaflexagon (thank you Fiona Abel-Smith).

Arranging them together.

And my favourite …

a simple stack. I love the way they hold each other, and build up.

Two more objects made in this period aren’t part of the project, but were useful as learning opportunities.

A pen-holder, using scrap clay, much of it processed through the extruder, covering a tin.

Version two used canes made following tutorials from Alice Stroppel – seen briefly in my August 2021 post.

The writing I’ve done is all thinking-on-the-page and not suitable for sharing. However I thought the reading list may be of use to others. I’ve certainly found the work / experience, the stranded process I’ve been following, of great personal benefit. Not suitable for this blog, but I’d be happy to discuss further and respond to comments. I think the reading approach in particular is a bit different and of considerable benefit.

Related reading:

  • Kate Zambreno Book of Mutter
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Notes on Grief
  • Max Porter Grief  is the thing with feathers
  • Emily Dickinson – poems
  • John Berger – Mother – in Selected Essays
  • Anne Carson Nox
  • Kate Zambreno Appendix Project
  • Roland Barthes Mourning Diary
  • Tennyson In Memoriam
  • Johann Hari Lost connections
  • Jane Hirshfield Hiddenness, Uncertainty, Surprise: Three Generative Energies of Poetry
  • Giacomo Leopardi Zibaldone
  • Eavan Boland A journey with two maps. In particular “Letter to a young woman poet”

More making, thinking

Last month’s post showed a number of clay hexagons. That sequence of investigation resulted in a “flexa-hexagon”, following the instructions of Fiona Abel-Smith (

Sorry there’s no video – some technical issues on my part – so check Fiona’s tutorial to get an idea of how it works.

The research brief I mentioned last month was heavily modified after discussion with Ruth Hadlow and the rest of my Creative Research group. We’re now in our third year of working together, and our monthly zoom sessions are exhilarating and exhausting. We’re a diverse group, and the familiarity we’ve developed with each participant’s individual interests leads to wonderful questions, insights, and challenges.

Here I’ll just give a brief view of work so far – on 19th century mourning conventions.

Cassells Household Guide (date around 1880s) ( acknowledges the grief, but moves briskly into the practicalities for “the afflicted widow, who, being now deprived of her own and her children’s support, besides being perhaps totally unfitted for business duties, is left among strangers, friendless and alone; and who, most likely, by incurring needless outlay in funeral expenses, deprives of their subsistence those who look to her – who is now their only friend – for food and shelter.” Details are important, for example: “The width of the hat-bands worn differs according to the degree of relationship. When worn by the husband for the wife they are usually at the present time about seven inches wide. Those worn by fathers for sons, and sons for fathers, are about five inches wide. For other degrees of relationship the width of the hat-band varies from two and a half inches to four inches.” So much focus on money, business, status.

Mourning day dress
c. 1897-99
FIDM Museum

That rich purple. I wonder if it was one one the new aniline dyes.

As well as clothing, jewellery was a major signifier. Mum inherited a number of pieces, including this locket showing Louise Eleanor Corfield – my grandmother’s great aunt.

In 2019 mum and I made a pilgrimage to the National Library of Australia, which now holds the photograph albums of John Chester Jervis. Louise’s image briefly joined that of her brother and sister.

A slightly earlier influence is this still life watercolour by Frances ‘Fanny’ Macleay, which was exhibited by her as an honorary exhibitor at the Royal Academy London in 1824.

Mum and I saw it (a reproduction?) when we visited Elizabeth Bay House in 2013.

Elements of these – the colours, the thread work and seed pearls in the locket, the flowers of the still-life – were brought into clay experiments.

First four individual flower canes.

These little bowls range between 5.5 to 6.5 cm diameter. The back one combines two canes.

Extra elements were added, forced into a triangle, which was then cut and re-formed to include “thread and pearl”.

I made little bowls in two of the three potential kaleidoscope combinations.

These are slightly bigger – 8.5 cm across.

Finally I used leftover clay in an extruder, and created a bowl with a more 20th century “mod” vibe.

Back to the smaller size, at just over 6 cm.

The intention is that as my research reading and writing continues, I’ll keep responding in clay – further expanding my collection of vessels.


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January 2022

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