By Jess Regelson
The breaking of a dish once had the aura of tragedy for me, but growing up in a household of six children, toys got smashed and dishes were often broken. My mother’s reaction to a broken dish was to make light of the destruction, but I was haunted by every incident. That precious object would never be whole and perfect again, and there was nothing to be done about it, but to sweep up the shards and throw them away.
When my grandmothers died, I received some of their china. Grandma’s pattern was “Martha Washington.” Nanny’s was called “Jenny Lind.” I loved using these dishes every day, loved the excuse to think of my grandmothers, but inevitably, sometimes a piece would break. I’d wash the shards and stick them on a shelf. I couldn’t throw them out. I thought to myself that someday I would make something out of them and restore them to usefulness.
The pile grew bigger, and eventually I went to the library, got out some books on making mosaics, and made my first piece: a terra cotta flower pot covered with broken dishes, including a little “Martha Washington” and a little “Jenny Lind”. I went from making flower pots, to murals with kids, then commissions for private clients as well as my artwork, pieces that incorporate all manner of found and broken objects.
People often leave me bags of shards to use in my projects. From Pat, I have dishes from her Aunt Kit. From Ivy, a set of plates that once belonged to her Grandma Rose. Carla gave me a hideous ceramic mermaid she’d received as a gift, in the hopes that I would break it and put it to good use. This mermaid’s left breast is now a part of the continent of Africa, in a mosaic of maps which I just completed at an elementary school in Providence.
I now believe in the beauty to be found in the broken, the forgotten, and the useless things that most people throw away, or never even see. I walk with my eyes open. I pick up little doodads I find in my daily travels. A pretty rock, the earring left when its mate is lost, a wooden spool empty of thread. It’s a matter of appreciating the potential of that object to help me tell a story, and to whisper to the imaginations of others. The orphaned objects that find their way into my work are calling to the memories and associations of the viewer, evoking reactions that I cannot anticipate but hope will occur. The broken pieces contain the story of what they once were part of. Now they are part of a new story.
Many things in this world are broken, or exist in a state of uselessness and neglect. I believe that when we’re able to see the beauty in the worn and torn in our lives, we can also see the possibility of transformation. I believe that these broken pieces are in a moment of transition, waiting to be made into something marvelous.