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Transforming loss: Ceramics display at La Jolla Library gets to the heart of grief

Works of ceramic art by Amelia Eastman are on view at the La Jolla/Riford Library.
(Courtesy of Amelia Eastman)

In facing the death of a loved one earlier this year, Amelia Eastman felt a range of emotion. To help her heal, she took to clay to create hearts and other sculptures to work out what was happening in her own heart.

“There were times when it felt like my heart had a hole in it, so I put a hole in one of these clay hearts,” she said. “There were times it felt like my heart was broken and loosely put back together, so one is split in two and put back together in a new way, because that’s how I felt. Some have pathways in them because I felt lost.”

A collection of Eastman’s pieces is on view at the La Jolla/Riford Library in a case near the main entrance, along with a notepad for people to write down what helped them in a time of grief. There’s also a container to place the notes in. The collection was installed this month and will be up through October.

“Grief is so personal, and so is how you manage it,” Eastman said. “I wanted to hear their stories. I want to learn from others.”

Eastman, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at UC San Diego in La Jolla, said she wanted to create the display to “present those that are grieving with an idea” on how to heal.

“In my line of work, people open up to me, and there are a lot of people that are grieving,” she said. “The pandemic caused a lot of changes, and there are people struggling with loss.”

Eastman became one of them when her loved one died in February (she did not want to disclose further information about the person or the nature of the death). Around that time, the UCSD Craft Center reopened after its predecessor closed and was demolished in 2012. The new 11,000-square-foot Craft Center is open to the public when not hosting a class or workshop.

“I did ceramics for a long time, but then I took a break,” Eastman said. “To have a tangible form in your hand that you can hold, that you adjust, that you can give away ... was important.”

In the display are hearts and other sculptures Eastman made at the Craft Center to show the different feelings associated with losing someone close. There also is a QR code that links to a video showing the process in creating the showcase.

“Grief is so personal, and so is how you manage it,” Amelia Eastman says.
(Courtesy of Amelia Eastman)

Producing the display “helped me take something unimaginable and complex and make it something purely emotional,” she said. “It’s wonderful to take something so overwhelming and make it simple and manageable.”

Eastman said she wanted to have the display at the La Jolla Library because “I love that library” and she figured it would reach a variety of people.

“The La Jolla/Riford Library is often looking for significant examples of community art, and Amelia Eastman’s sculptures on the subject of grief are profound and very personal,” said branch manager Bill Mallory. “Besides their artistic merit, they also spark a much-needed discussion on the subject and allow library patrons’ feelings to be part of the display.”

Works by Amelia Eastman are on display in a case near the main entrance of the La Jolla/Riford Library.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Overall, Eastman finds the work “exciting and aesthetically pleasing,” she said. “It’s thrilling for me to see an emotion I had reflected back to me, but it feels different looking back on me. I don’t experience the same sadness as when I made it. The product doesn’t feel the same. It feels transformed, and that is something I am proud of.”

The La Jolla/Riford Library is at 7555 Draper Ave. Public hours are 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays and 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. Learn more at lajollalibrary.org. ◆