Glass for Good and Breast Cancer
After a day spent videotaping a class in pâte de verre, Bullseye’s Hanmi Meyer had an aha moment.
The idea was simple.
Instead of tamping powder into a mold to create elegant thin-walled bowls, students could use the technique to create fabulous granulated breasts. Pâte de verre (French for paste of glass) would become Sein de Verre (sahn duh ver—breast of glass). It would be a Glass for Good class to raise money and awareness for those facing breast cancer.
Hanmi didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Her vision for Sein de Verre sprang out of hope, but it was rooted in trauma.
All week, Wendi had weighed on Hanmi’s mind. Her friend had recently undergone surgery for breast cancer and Hanmi knew from her own medical travails how precarious every step in the recovery process can be. The doctors give you a prescription and a number to call. Your exhausted family and friends sigh with relief. Everyone wants to think the ordeal is over.
But it’s not.
For all the healing work yet to do in the body, the mind faces even more. That’s because after you’ve suffered long and beaten back a menagerie of agonies for months, it can be hard to find your bearings—hard to remember a healthy normal, hard to distinguish your sense of self from the echoing threats and shames that had become daily tormentors.
During those intensive seasons of inner healing, Hanmi felt that a few things were especially helpful: one, the solidarity of a listening community; and two, the chance to make something meaningful in each others’ presence.
With that in mind, Hanmi texted Wendi. She wanted to know if the mental part of healing was proving particularly difficult.
Wendi replied with an emphatic yes—a yes she punctuated by sharing from her journal.
From Wendi’s journal
On the way home I cried.
When I got home Jenna met me at the door. She had been crying, too.
We held each other and I said “I’m sorry.” I apologized for not getting a mammogram sooner.
I apologized for getting cancer and putting us through what we were about to go through; the halt to everything we had planned, the waiting for test results or the next step, the not knowing, the surgery, the recovery, the emotional drains, everything.
This bout with cancer has been “easy” compared to what others have gone through.
I had 3 areas of cancer and one atypical area. All were taken out with lumpectomies and the pathology showed that it didn’t spread to the lymph nodes so chances are I won’t have to go through chemo. Just radiation.
I’m two weeks post op today and all is going well…. The physical part of this hasn’t been bad. What I’ve struggled with the most is the mental part. I’ve been healthy all of my life. Learning that I have cancer was shocking to hear. It’s the “C” word. No amount of rationalizing could lower the impact that has on me. I keep saying that it’s so hard to wrap my brain around. It’s not something I want to accept. I’m not calling it “my cancer,” it’s “the cancer.”
Alex Interviews Hanmi for this blog story, late July 2019
Hanmi and I sat alone at a conference table, mid-morning sunshine casting golds and shadows across the room. We were meeting to talk about Sein de Verre as a Glass for Good class and how it would contribute to National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We were meeting to talk about how the class could encourage Wendi and so many others in our community.
And community is what we ended up talking about. Not cancer, or fear, or loss. But community. And compassion. And the things that bring people together.
Facing trauma alone, we agreed, is incomparably harder than when faced with others. Sickness and fear can cause feelings of shame and despair; these, in turn, can spiral into vicious cycles of isolation. But by normalizing our sufferings and fears, by making them communal, we can help bring one another relief and hope. Together—and perhaps only together—we can produce the kind of light that emits the healing properties we all need. In its own small way, that kind of illuminating togetherness is what Sein de Verre aimed to spark.
Hanmi then shared something she had learned from Alicia Lomné—that working in pâte de verre could be extremely meditative. The sifting, the molding, the tamping… letting the imagination wander in the seashore of grain-sized details… letting the mind focus on the methodical process, as though a mantra… these qualities could facilitate a state of dynamic tranquility. While making with pâte de verre, you could be calm and present. You could engage with others while enjoying a sense of self-possession. Or you could let its rhythms and sensations lead you inward into a soothing state. In essence, the method could allow for both togetherness and centeredness; something about it felt… right.
I nodded, feeling inspired. Art? Beauty? Community? Solidarity? Contemplation? An active compassion that refused to let painful isolation engulf its neighbors? Sein de Verre’s story—which was really Wendi’s and Hanmi’s and so many others’—was one that needed telling.
Sein de Verre, Community, Creation
This October, we hope you will find active ways to raise awareness in support of all those facing breast cancer.
If you choose Sein de Verre as one of those ways, you will join Hanmi and Wendi and others from the community for a 2.5-hour hands-on workshop in pâte de verre at Bullseye Resource Center Portland. Using a provided plaster silica breast mold created with the help of several volunteer models, you will personalize the project using a palette of glass powders and fill the shell of the mold with a frit paste (we’ll first demonstrate pâte de verre methods and design options). Your finished piece will be fired in our kilns and available to pick up a few days later.
Your piece will be a one-of-a-kind, full-time awareness-raiser for breast cancer. It will also be a reminder of the conversations and experiences you shared while standing (and making) in solidarity with fellow community members. And like all Glass for Good classes, its profits will go to charity—in this case, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
Regardless of how, this October let’s all find meaningful ways to stand with every person facing breast cancer. Let’s strive to be the community we want to be and help them feel seen, known, and not alone.
Sein de Verre will take place in Portland on Wednesday, October 2, from 6-8:30pm.