Heart of glass
Two white clouds cap the ends of a thin, glass rainbow that reaches across the blue surface of one of artist Sheri Fisher’s lampwork beads. One cloud forms the shape of a heart, the other a paw.
Encased within the bead is a third cloud—a milky glimmer that catches the light. But this one is not made of glass like the others. It floats in the center of the bead—a nebulous dusting of ash taken from the cremains of a beloved pet. It’s a memorial bead, a kind of totem that was inspired by Fisher’s loss of her own dog, Madison.
For years, Fisher kept Madison’s ashes in an oak box her father-in-law built for them.
“And I looked at it, and I thought that I wanted him a little bit closer,” she said.
That was five years ago, and although she’d only been working with glass for about a year, Fisher decided to try incorporating some of the ashes into one of her beads.
“I felt like I had a lot of hubris pulling out Maddie’s ashes and doing something with that when I didn’t feel like I had the skill to,” she recalled. “I was a little nervous. But as soon as I started working with it, it was very calming.”
Fisher spent the next year making pieces with Madison’s ashes, narrowing in on the colors and brands of glass that would yield the best results. Today, she has more than three dozen beads and touchstones made from his ashes—and has turned what started as a personal journey of healing into a business helping others memorialize their own pets.
Customers can choose from a half a dozen customizable designs, including the rainbow pendant and a bead Fisher calls the “cosmic globe.” It features a subtle glow-in-the-dark powder mixed in with the ash.
But choosing the design is just the first step. To ease her customers through the rest, Fisher has established a start-to-finish process—a sacrament of sorts that is as much a part of her art as the finished product.
It starts with a collection kit, a small jar and bamboo scoop in a simple, white jewelry box. Some customers choose to the fill the jar themselves. Others leave this to the staff at the crematory.
“When I get the package back, the whole bench gets completely stripped, vacuumed off, and I pour a glass of champagne,” she said. “That’s just a ritual I started. I don’t know how long ago or why. It’s a process that I want to honor. … And I know this sounds woo woo, but I talk to the ashes, especially if I know a little bit more history about the animal.”
Completed pieces are wrapped in tissue paper and tucked in another jewelry box. The final presentation is that of a gift.
“It’s my way of honoring that memory,” Fisher said. “And it is a gift, because of what the animal gave to that person. Even though they’re crying and grieving, once that initial, staggering loss [fades]—once you get your head wrapped around it a little bit—there are a lot of gifts that the animal has given.”