Laura Gheesling’s art students are providing hope, peace, comfort and stability to families involved with Hospice of Chattanooga’s grief counseling through their ceramic heart creations.
The hearts are given to individuals as part of their healing process.
“These are supposed to go in your pocket or your wallet or your purse,” Gheesling explained. “Any time you think about the person, you are supposed to pull it out. It is sort of like a memory walk.”
The hearts were originally created by a ceramics shop out of Washington state. Each was smooth with pretty colors covering the perfectly rounded edges. They looked as if they had been professionally manufactured.
They also cost much more than is effective for a nonprofit to continually purchase.
Gheesling met a hospice worker through her work in art therapy and the two soon struck an agreement.
Cleveland High would provide all of the materials for the ceramic hearts free of charge. Students would use the work as a continuing class project and an opportunity for community outreach.
The students’ hearts look a little different than the original manufactured hearts.
“I wanted my students to create these very artistically,” Gheesling said. “Some of them have these ragged edges, which is nice. People are not perfect — we all have ragged edges and imperfections.”
Gheesling added, “I thought families would accept these more if they were imperfect in their own ways.”
Hundreds have been created by the Cleveland High students with a flair for the artistic.
Hospice Vice President of Marketing Garry Mac said the partnership has been beneficial for the nonprofit.
Mac said, “They were looking for a community project, and we were happy to be that project.”
Every heart begins as a part of a large slab of clay. Students roll out the clay until it is all one size. A tool shaped like a sharp, metal pencil is then used to cut out the hearts. The sizes vary depending on the whim of the student.
The same can be said for the designs.
Abbie Cothran said she likes to individualize her hearts.
“Instead of making them red and pink, I want to put designs on them,” Cothran said. “You need a whole lot of variety. You don’t know if a guy wants flowers — maybe his mom likes flowers.”
Some of Cothran’s designs include a wave carved into the heart and another with an alligator painted on the front.
Concluded Cothran, “I want to make it look good.”
The next stage after cutout and design is placing the hearts in a kiln.
Gheesling said the temperature of the fire reaches up to 1,800 degrees. A coat of colored glaze is added before the hearts are once again placed in the fire.
All finished products are then given to Hospice.
Mac said the locally created hearts hold a lot of significance.
“When people hear the story of how these were made by students here at Cleveland High School, it means a lot more,” Mac said. “I think people have a great appreciation for them because some relationships had some rough edges.”
How a person chooses their heart is completely subjective.
Mac explained the hearts are placed out during grief camps, therapy and sessions. Some people analyze 25 to 30 hearts before making a choice.
A design of the sun might remind someone of how much their uncle enjoyed the outdoors.
Green might be their sister’s favorite color.
The spirals on a heart might remind them of their mother’s love of doodling.
“Maybe their [ceramic] heart is really big and they feel the person in their life had a huge heart,” Gheesling said. “Maybe the design represents something for them.”
Mac said the hearts serve an important purpose in the healing process.
“Everyone handles grief differently,” Mac explained. “The heart represents love and it is the love you have for that person. It also gives you a focus.”
Gheesling said her students will continue to create the hearts as long as Hospice has a need for them.