Word of The Day- Thanatology

With my work of sculpting posthumous sculpture, my study of sculpting the deceased, and the writing of the book, “Bringing to Life the Spirit of the Deceased- A Sculptor’s Journey” which I am still searching for a publisher, I cannot believe I did not come across this word.

It means the study of everything that has to do with dying, death, and grief. There is even an organization called The Center for Thanatology Research and Education Inc.

Once again I ask myself, why am I drawn to this area? For me it is a God thing. I know that creating a sculptor of a loved one can be very healing for the family. I am extremely thankful that I have a job that helps others. But even as a child I was drawn to the subject. I write about it in my book, and may even have mentioned it before. It was my job each spring to bury the baby birds that fell from the nest hidden in the rafters of our old Victorian home. I was the only 5 year old that I know that had their own baby bird cemetery. It is an uncontrollable desire to give credence to a life lived, to somehow establish a physical existence that others can see and say, “Who was this person?”

here is a portion from the book, “I have always been intrigued with the story that I heard about elephants, marveling at the bones of their ancestors that they never knew. I remember seeing an elephant documentary that said that elephants that came across bones of their ancestors would pick them up and caress them, passing them from one to another in a respectful but mourning ritual. By doing so, it helped them come to terms with death. I feel that this action, this simple action by a wonderful and majestic creature is what I feel when I create posthumous portraiture. When the box of personal affects comes to my studio and I examine its contents, from that day forward until the day that the sculpture is complete, I have spent time lovingly caressing the life that I have had the pleasure of being introduced to. I turn that life over and over in my hands and in my heart as lovingly as those majestic elephants did with the bones of their ancestors. It is through this ritual and my art that my experience is enhanced and the healing process and letting go occur for my client.”

Two Ways To Look

There are two ways to study my posthumous subjects. The first is necessary. Proportions, proportions, proportions. The second is emotionally. there are two distinct ways and sometimes, yes they do crossover. What can you pick up from a photograph or video? Much more than you would think. That is what I discovered when suffering from depression after working on a commission of a suicide. Turns out there is some science behind what happens. Ah one day I’ll have this book published and be able to share, and I also want to do a video on that process. It is fascinating!


I have the new foam armature for the Jenna sculpture and when arriving from Austin with it I was thrilled to find a package from Jenna’s mom. It contained video of Jenna. It is so great that this is available to me. It enhances the connection between Jenna and I and gives me such great resources to work with. Saturday is my play day. Just Jenna and I. I can hardly stand the anticipation. If I had not planned on attending a Taize prayer/worship service tonight with my apprentice Russo, I would be home getting to work on Jeanna. I put in the dvd to take a quick look and could hardly stand it. In the morning, yes that is it, in the morning. I’m coming Jenna!

Is It The Paranormal Or….

imagination? I asked this question in the book that I wrote on sculpting the deceased ( still looking for a publisher) I have had a difficult time with the terms paranormal or psychic, so calling it my imagination appears to be safer.

If you ask some of the parents of my subjects if there is a connection between myself and the deceased they would most likely say yes. One mother said she was almost jelouse. Though most don’t realize that my connection, if there is one is through their love and the bonds that they share.

This morning in the space between awake and asleep I was holding a baby. She slept so soundly and the feeling, as it is when you are holding a sleeping baby, was amazing. I kissed her forehead, and breathed in that baby smell. In my joy of that moment I asked, “who do you belong to?” I know of no babies in my awakening state. No sooner had I said it that the thought came into my mind. This is Jenna! Because I was in that in between state the thought of holding Jenna woke me up. Quickly I closed my eyes and tried to lull myself back to sleep to study her. Look at her features and I always want to look at the hands. I only returned momentarily.

A Real Dog For a Bronze Boy

My husband and I regularly foster animals for the Homeless Pet Placement League . Basically we take care of the dogs, make sure they are healthy and then take them to the adoption place, Petco on Shepherd on Saturdays. This little gal is Boots, and we have been fostering her for several weeks now.

When she arrived and would come into the studio, she loved to sit next to the Lucas sculpture. I thought it was strange. She would even plop right on his bronze foot. I moved all of her toys and blanket next to Lucas and would joke that Lucas has a dog.

I talked with Lucas’ mom just a few days ago and told her this story. She said that Lucas had always wanted a puppy, but she never got around to getting him one.

My husband said that when the Lucas sculpture leaves the studio to be delivered to his mom, Boots will probably get adopted.

Jeanine’s Life Mask

Jeanine’s life mask from when she was a child.

Last year when I was contacted by Jeanine’s parents they sent her life mask to me. It was taken when she was about ten years old. They wanted to know if I could cast her image from the mask. I have documented this in the book, “Bringing to Life the Spirit of the Deceased- A Sculptor’s Journey.” It was strange to look into the life mask. It felt like I could look deep into Jeanine. It is also odd… when you shoot a photograph of a life mask or the inside of a mold, you never really can tell if it is something that is concave or convex.

This is a wonderful thing to have. I have included photographs of the life mask, as well as the cast.

Signing Off On A Sculpture

Just be sure that everything is the way it should be before the sculpture goes into the bronze process. After that, changes can cost a considerable amount of money. In fact, I have my clients sign off on the project at the final sitting, before the sculpture goes to the foundry.

The fear of capturing the expression of someone and investing your time and money into a process with the results being unsure is something to think about. If you have reviewed the artist’s work and credentials and like the artists work, if you have discussed your fears and expectations and provided the artist with the resources that they need, and if you know the artists process includes your input, then your can be assured that the sculpture will be something you like. With all of that said you must remember, it is art, and even my contract states…

“It is here by understood and agreed that it may not be possible to create the Work exactly as described herein or as depicted in preliminary designs, and the Artist shall only be bound to use her best aesthetic judgment to create the Work according to the style and intent of the design, The artist is hereby free to make design modifications as the work progresses.”

I point this out because there was one commission, a posthumous commission where it was impossible to please the client. I have written about this commission in my book “Bringing to Life the Spirit of the Deceased—A Sculptor’s Journey” and at first I was very irritated with the entire process. But my feelings soon changed. You see I was the 3rd or 4th artist that this man came to. He was trying to capture the image of his deceased wife. Though he said I did the best job in capturing a likeness, the commission never came to a finalization. It was after much prayer and consideration that I believe I understood why this happened.
First I think the man was trying to get the artists to create something that just could not be created. In a way I think he wanted his wife back and expected the sculpture to somehow fulfill this need. The second reason was because I have noticed with posthumous sculpture that the emotion, the healing the grieving does not happen when the client comes for the approval and sees this three dimensional loved one, on the contrary it happens when the sculpture is placed, complete and there is nothing left for the client to do but grieve. Until that time the client can busy themselves with the process. The commission gives them something else to do before having nothing else but loss.

I Miss Them, And I Never Knew Them.

I don’t think I would call it melancholy, it is definitely reflective. I have spent a year of my life with Lucas and Jeanine. I have swum in my thoughts and feelings about them and searched desperately for them. Together we developed a relationship and they brought me to some really surprising discoveries about my process and myself.

I commented on my other blog that a parent who had lost a child looked at the Jeanine sculpture at the christmas party and said I have sculpted so much peace in her. His comment meant a great deal to me, because he too has suffered this loss. I documented the entire process of sculpting Jeanine for the book that I am writing, and shared it with the readers but in the end I step back and look at the piece and still wonder, how did we do this? I rejoice in thinking that the sculpture emits peace. Considering the pain in her life and the way that she died, finding this peace and capturing it has been very important to me. I know the parents will then see the peace in the sculpture and that will somehow help them.

But again, Lucas and Jeanine will soon be gone. They will be with their parents, and for that I am happy. I will have the memories of creating and loving them.

Today I shared With Jeanine’s Mom

It made me smile, and it made me cry, but most of all it made me know how profound life and death are.

Jeanine, one of my posthumous commissions is just coming to an end. Finalizing the details I shared with Jeanines mom the wonderful lessons that I learned through this sculpture. I hope to share it in my book and will try to put some of the writing here. The connection between Jeanine, myself and her mom was strong. I wonder, ” What made that happen?” As is relationships in life I think it was the sharing. The sharing of ourselves and our intimate details of our lives. I learned about Jeanine through her mom. Her mom was open and shared quite a bit. I wish all posthumous commissions were like the relationship that was developed here. I can never have too much, I can never have too many photographs or e-mails that just ramble about the person and the love. It is strange to think that I develop a relationship with the deceased. When it was first brought to my attention I though it was impossible, but then as I mulled it over I realized, it is true. Through my work and through death my friendships grow.

The picture above is one of Jeanine’s moms favorite pictures. She says it shows her spirit.

While completing my study and writing the book “Brining to Life the Spirit of the Deceased—A Sculptor’s Journey” my beloved instructor Charlotte Hastings passed away. I had taken this picture of her while at an art show. I was surprised at how similar Charlotte’s picture and Jeanine’s picture are. It is good to remember on those we love, to think about their energy and their affect on our life even after death. Thank you Jeanine, thank you charlotte.