By Lauren Deal
Macon Community News

On the day after Christmas, in 2014, I received a call from my brother telling me that our father had passed away. My family had just been gathered at my house for the holiday. On Christmas Eve, my father interacted with his grandchildren and with friends who came to our house for dinner before midnight mass. But by the time my parents headed home on Christmas night, my father was wheezing. He had COPD, and his health wasn’t great. Even still, his death seemed sudden and very painful.

Blazing Paddles - Orb
The completed commemorative glass paperweight, in lapis blue with dark blue and light yellow streaks. The swirling white bubbles are formed by ashes. Photo by Yen-Ting Chiu.

Like a growing number of Americans who have died in recent years, my father wanted to be cremated. And like many families, we didn’t really have a plan for how to dispose of his ashes. Sure, some of his ashes were spread at destinations that were meaningful to him. But for me, the knowledge that some part of him was left in places he loved didn’t ease my grief or the pain of missing him in my life.

That’s where Macon artist, owner of Blazing Paddles Studio, and co-founder of stARTup Studios Bryan M. Beck comes into the picture. Guest columnist Craig Coleman contributed an article to the July issue of Macon Community News describing the weekend glass blowing classes Bryan teaches through Blazing Paddles Studios. I was fascinated by the story.

My father was an avid collector of handblown glass. When I was young, his collection featured mostly spherical paperweights, but through the years, it expanded to include artwork of various sizes and shapes. I remember standing with my dad, watching an artist at Georgia’s Renaissance Festival working glass—gathering the molten glass on the end of metal tubes, blowing air to expand the vessel, growing the glass with his breath, continually turning it and shaping it until finally producing a completed object, a vase or tumbler or paperweight. To have such an artist in Macon is an incredible privilege for our community.

Blazing Paddles into the Furnace
Artist Bryan M. Beck inserting the colored glass into the heat to melt it as he creates a commemorative glass orb for the author. Photo by Yen-Ting Chiu.

After reading Coleman’s article, I reached out to Bryan with an unusual question: I asked him if he’d ever had someone come to his studio to add cremation ashes to one of his glassworks. I had seen companies advertising online that you could mail them your family member’s ashes to be included into a handblown glass piece of art. I just couldn’t trust what little I had of my father to a mail delivery service or an unknown company in another state.

Bryan was gracious in his response. I happened to contact him right after the newspaper was published. At the time, he had completed his last weekender glass class and dismantled his old studio while he, his artist wife, Yen-Ting Chiu, and colleagues were working to prepare stARTup Studios for moving in. He promised to contact me when the new studio was up and running, and in early November, he kept his word.

When I met Bryan at stARTup Studios, he was very patient with me. Despite knowing that I wanted something beautiful to remember my father by, I didn’t have an artistic vision. Bryan showed me examples of different sizes, shapes, design patterns, and colors that he could create. I chose a round paperweight pretty quickly since those were my father’s favorite. But I had a tough time picking a color because I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t know what my father’s favorite color was.

Blazing Paddles - Shaping Ashes Glass
The author’s father’s ashes are the white powder swirled around the outside of the melted lapis blue glass. Photo by Yen-Ting Chiu.

Bryan showed me different colors of glass that he could use, and I felt drawn to a beautiful blue. As we talked, I explained to him that my father was also into minerals, rocks, and gems. My father had given me jewelry made of lapis lazuli, and I decided that was the look I wanted. Bryan looked up pictures of lapis to get a sense of the colors and patterns in the stone.

I asked Bryan to make four large paperweights, for my mother, siblings, and myself, and two smaller paperweights for my children. I had brought my remaining portion of ashes, about two cups worth, to give to Bryan, which he assured me would be sufficient to make each piece of art glass. I knew that he would take good care of my father.

A few days later, Bryan contacted me to let me know that he was going to be working on my pieces. He showed me the first one finished to confirm that I was happy with the way it turned out. It was perfect. During the process, I shared more about my father with Bryan: his favorite music, a picture of us on the day I was sworn in to practice law, and little anecdotes. Bryan carved my dad’s name and date of birth into the bottom of each glass orb (which is how I learned that my father was born forty years and one day before Bryan).

When I got to see the finished products, I was absolutely thrilled. I felt like my father was really with Bryan during the process and it’s not only his ashes that came through in the art glass but also his spirit. Glass is beautiful because of the way it responds to light and temperature, and when I hold my art glass, I can warm it in my hands so that it’s body temperature. Holding my paperweight is the closest I’ve felt to my father since his death.

The colors are remarkably reminiscent of lapis lazuli, with dark flecks and yellow flecks intermixed with the color that we traditionally call “lapis blue.” My father’s ashes swirl around the colors to form a bright milky way. It reminds me of pictures of Earth from space.

Bryan created amazing one-of-a-kind artwork for my family and me. His work is a fitting tribute to my father, especially given my dad’s appreciation for handblown glass art. I can’t thank him enough for bringing to life a vision that I didn’t even have fully formed in my mind when I first went to see him.

If you have been holding on to the ashes of a loved one and you’ve been uncertain how to use them, consider visiting Bryan at stARTup Studios to talk to him about creating custom handblown glass art to commemorate your loved one.

Macon’s stARTup Studios is home to Blazing Paddles Studio LLC, Heather Margarete Design, Yen-Ting Chiu Ceramics, J R Bodell Sculpture, Inc., Ayako Kurimoto Art, and more. They also feature art by Casie Trace, K.I.M. Artist, and Tom Ellington. At stARTup Studios, you can see art being made, take lessons, purchase ready-made items, and commission individual pieces to suit your tastes and needs. The best place to get information about the artists and opportunities at stARTup Studios is on their Facebook page, or you can visit them at 1055 Riverside Drive, Macon, Georgia, 31201. You can also call them at (478) 254-1830.



Published by Lauren Deal

Lauren Deal is an attorney-at-law with the Deal Law Firm, LLC. She is also a wife, mother of two, a former teacher and assignment editor for Macon Community News.