Students from Morning Son Christian School visited Corks n’ Clay Pottery Studio in Fergus Falls on Tuesday to glaze ornaments that will be donated to the Lake Region Healthcare Cancer Care & Research Center. The activity wasn’t just a kind, festive gesture by students, though — it holds a much deeper meaning for Morning Son art teacher Tessa Martinson and Corks n’ Clay owner Christine Lawson.
Tessa’s husband, Jon, was diagnosed with cancer in January 2018. Tessa and her family, therefore, spent a lot of time at the LRHC Cancer Center and, though Jon passed away in October 2018, Tessa has continued to work with the center. As the art teacher at Morning Son, she’s incorporated learning about grief and loss into her lessons and in October of this year, to commemorate her husband and thank the center, she and her students donated a work of art they made titled “Wings of Hope” to the center as a way of showing support and encouragement to the patients there. Karen Wulfekuhle, the licensed social worker at the cancer center, told Tessa about the new Christmas tree the cancer center got. In explaining how the project came to be, she explains, “They said, ‘Hey, we have this big new tree, we’re going to host a tree-lighting ceremony for our tenth anniversary but we don’t have any ornaments. Do you think your students could make some ornaments for us?’ And so that’s where this idea came from and we started thinking and brainstorming and we called this project ‘Gifts of the Season.’”
Christine’s son, Isaiah, also battled cancer. He was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at the age of 3 and the house that Christine’s studio is based out of was built for him, as a clean house to help his recovery. Today, at 11-years-old, Isaiah is a 6-year survivor. “Tessa and I have cancer in common, her husband passed away and son Isaiah is a survivor of cancer, and Tessa is an art teacher and I am an art teacher, so we have those two big things in our life in common,” says Christine.
Christine and Tessa got to know each other when Tessa’s daughter attended Christine’s summer clay camps, so when the idea to make ornaments was being formed, she thought right away of Christine. With funding from the LRHC Foundation and a Thrivent Action Team grant to pay for materials, along with help from Morning Son teachers and volunteer parents, the project came together.
Christine made the ornaments herself, a total of 160 made of porcelain clay. Each grade level at Morning Son, kindergarten through sixth grade, developed a list of words they wanted to use on the ornaments. “We brainstormed words that would be a gift from the heart this season, that we could give as our wish and hope for somebody that was coming to the cancer center for treatment or for a doctor’s appointment,” explained Tessa. The words chosen include “believe,” “love,” “joy,” “peace,” “laughter,” “kindness” and “shine,” among others. Christine hand wrote in cursive these words on the ornaments which were shaped like hearts, stars, diamonds and circles, and then fired them in the kiln for 12 hours. When students arrived on Tuesday, the ornaments were ready to be glazed. A black glaze was applied to help the words stand out and then the ornaments were dipped in a green liquid which, though it turned the ornaments green, would become clear after firing. The ornaments will be returned to the kiln for another eight hours and then, later this month, delivered to the cancer center.
At the cancer center, the ornaments will be used to decorate the Christmas tree and will serve to brighten the days of the patients and families who are seeking treatment there. Patients will also be able to select an ornament for themselves to bring home, a reminder that there are people out there thinking of them this holiday season.