Ferne passed away peacefully at home last week. She was 98.
Ferne hadn’t done ceramics in a long time, but her hobby was such an important part of her life that it was mentioned at her funeral. My sister and I even spotted one of her lovely ceramic Christmas trees in the background of a photo in a video montage that spanned her entire life. I sometimes wonder how many of those trees she made—I’ve seen at least three, and each was a little different from the others.
In Ferne’s honor, here’s a glance at some of my favorite Ferne-made pieces.
The Choir Kids & Christmas Tree: Ferne detailed these choir kids to resemble my sister, brother, and me back when we were all under 10 years of age. (I’m the one with pony tails.) In the background is the Christmas tree she made for my mom. Every year when I bring these out I treat them very gingerly. (On close inspection it looks like my sister was decapitated at some point and had her head carefully glued back on. I have no idea how or when that may have happened.)
Mom’s angel: Some people focus on the gold candle holders, but I love the iridescent gown most of all. I still have the special “tear drop” candles Ferne gave Mom for the angel to hold.
Dresser Sets: Ferne made nearly identical covered dresser sets for my sister and me. (I might not know the correct term for them, but I’m sure Ferne did!) My set has a slightly lighter green than my sister’s set. When I was a teenager, I was heartbroken when I accidentally dropped the lid of the larger dish. Thankfully it was a clean break and was easily glued back together. I can’t remember ever not having them.
The Cheese Plate: Most of Ferne’s creations were much like the woman herself—classy, refined, elegant—so this whimsical cheese plate really stands out. I especially love the tiny paw prints trailing from “Nibble with Arlene & Walt” right up to the playful cheese-eating mouse.
You can see more (but by no means all) of my collection of Ferne’s creations in my previous post.
Not only do I hope to honor Ferne’s memory with this post, I also want to use her work as an example of how precious handmade gifts are when they’re created with intent. She spent hours refining and perfecting her projects, and she imbued every brush stroke, every detail with love. She even signed and dated each piece.
I guarantee none of her ceramic pieces will ever be discarded or sold during my lifetime.
Ferne will be missed, but she’ll always be fondly remembered when the holiday pieces are on display, when the cheese plate is used, even when I dust my bedroom. (Which I’m sure is not nearly often enough to suit Ferne. She was extremely tidy.)
What are some of your treasured possessions that were handmade by someone you love?
I’m not sure Ferne would like me giving away her age, so let’s just say that today is her birthday and she’s probably celebrated more birthdays than most of you have.
Ferne is my mom’s cousin, and despite a slight age gap, the two seemed more like sisters. It’s no wonder since Ferne spent most of her summers and school vacations staying with my grandparents. Since my mom grew up with two brothers, I’m sure she relished every visit from Ferne.
Back in the day, Ferne’s hobby was ceramics and she made lots of beautiful gifts for Mom and Grandma. A couple years ago I was chatting with Ferne and told her I’d just put out all of the gorgeous Christmas decorations she’d made, and she seemed a bit surprised that I’d set the “those old things” out each year. In places of honor, no less. But I do.
To help celebrate Ferne’s birthday, I decided to share photos of just a few of her creations. (Others were packed away with more decorations, so I just pulled out the ones that were easy to find.)
This trio of angelic choir kids – painted to look like my siblings and me (I’ve got the pony tails) – is my personal favorite:
In the background is the Christmas tree light Ferne made. According to family lore, the tree form didn’t originally have all those pin holes, so Ferne had her husband, Lenny, painstakingly drill each and every tiny hole. She also made Grandma a slightly larger three-piece tree, so Lenny was pretty busy that year.
Another year, she made Mom and Grandma each a Christmas Angel. The coloring of this one kind of reminds me of my mom, which was probably intentional on Ferne’s part:
She also made Mom a green holly leaf candy/nut dish (with bright red berries) and a matching dessert stand. Christmas wasn’t the only holiday Ferne made decorations for. Here’s an Easter egg (she even painted the inside):
One year she personalized a cheese tray for Mom & Dad. I don’t know if you can read the script, but it says, “Nibble with Arlene and Walt,” then she painted in a path of tiny footprints leading up to the cute little mouse eating a piece of cheese. The footprints were an extra special touch that I adore:
Mom and Grandma weren’t the only ones to get special gifts. One year Ferne made dainty little covered dishes for my sister and me. This is my well-worn set:
You can probably see the feint crack across the right side of the larger lid. I was devastated when I accidentally dropped and broke it when I was a teenager, but thankfully a bit of glue did the trick.
Somewhere I still have a large owl she made for us. There’s also an unsigned cake stand that I think Ferne made. It’s elegant, like Ferne herself, and done in her signature colors: off-white and pale green, with gold accents that match the gold on the Angel’s candle holders.
Needless to say I’m very careful when handling all of Ferne’s creations. I treasure each piece for different reasons, but mostly because they were were made with love. By today’s birthday girl.
Happy Birthday, Ferne!