[Image above] Oregon-based glass artist Kelly Howard holds an Ash Memorial glass piece that contains the ashes of her mother. She started making such ash-containing pieces during the COVID-19 pandemic to help people grieve the loss of loved ones. Credit: KGW News, YouTube
Losing someone you love is hard, especially when you do not have time to say goodbye. This situation is one many of us face this year as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grip much of the world, and intense wildfire and hurricane seasons cause massive loss of life and property.
Everyone grieves differently. But finding ways to properly honor loss during these times is difficult, as traditional events such as funerals often are not possible. That is why the work by Kelly Howard, a glass artist located in Lincoln City, Oregon, may offer some comfort to you.
From Chicago to Oregon: Howard’s journey to becoming a glass artist
A resident of Oregon for almost 20 years, Howard is originally from the Midwest—she was born and raised an hour west of Chicago.
Howard grew up around art, making projects in her father’s industrial design workshop on weekends. In 1990, she enrolled and spent a year at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) before transferring to the University of Wisconsin at Madison to pursue a BA in psychology, which she earned in 1994.
Howard returned to SAIC after accepting a Presidential merit scholarship, and her studies focused on painting, drawing, fiber arts, and bronze casting. But the summer she enrolled in her first glass-blowing class, immediately “I knew it was for me,” she says in a Country Traveler Online article.
In 2000, Howard met some people who were opening a studio in Vancouver, Washington. They offered her a job managing their studio, so she moved to Portland, Oregon, and ended up in the glass scene in Lincoln City, a city located about 2 hours southwest from Portland.
Howard now lives in Lincoln City and manages the Jennifer L. Sears Glass Art Studio, a studio that emerged from the idea to make glassblowing available to the average person. She is also co-owner and manager of the Lincoln City Glass Center.
Glassblowing turns ashes into art
Howard’s work typically involves making a lot of traditional glass pieces, such as vases and floats. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Howard wanted to do something to help families grieving the loss of loved ones.
Her solution was to offer the Ash Memorial Series, which are glass pieces that contain the cremation ashes of loved ones. “There’s just not a lot of things that help with that kind of grief for people. And I feel like making these pieces with the ashes, it somehow gives them something to hold onto,” she says in an interview with KGW News.
Then, in September, further tragedy struck Lincoln City when the Echo Mountain Complex Fire swept through the area. Thankfully, no one died during the fire, but the inferno destroyed hundreds of homes and left locals trying to figure out what comes next.
Howard again turned to glass to try and help the community deal with the loss. She and an artist friend who lost her home in the fire repurposed some of the ashes to create a glass-blown phoenix. “The symbolism is the idea of the phoenix rising from the ashes, it’s rising from the destruction,” Howard says.
In addition to the phoenix, which will be auctioned off to raise money for those recovering and rebuilding, they also used the ash to create memorial glass phoenix coins, which are being sold for $25 to benefit fire victims.
“Using the ashes in it is, I think, also symbolic in a way that nothing else can be. It’s actually physically made into something that hopefully inspires hope for people,” Howard says. She hopes to raise at least $1,000 for the fire victims.
The full KGW News interview with Howard is below.