Spiritual Outlook for 15 March 2015

From Spiritual Outlook, 5:05 pm on 15 March 2015

The garden
The courtyard at Mercy Hospice in Auckland with the memorial ceramic panels on the walls

“I have my days still when I get upset and even when I’m up here I can get upset, but it’s just a peaceful place to remember Jason.”

– Don Cassidy

For Don Cassidy and his wife Cheryl, their son Jason is never far from their minds. Jason was just 26 when he was diagnosed with bowel cancer in October 1999. He died three months later. In his final months, Jason and his family received support and care through Mercy Hospice on Mountain Road in Epsom. Don says even though they were some of the darkest days for the Cassidy family, he can never say thank enough for the kindness and grace shown to them by Mercy Hospice staff.

“They just looked after him, they were wonderful. We could never thank them enough for what they did for him and for us as well… we could stay the night in his room and they used to feed us and look after us as well.”

And so began a relationship between the Cassidys and Mercy that has lasted more than 15 years but was truly cemented when Mercy Hospice moved to its current site on College Hill in 2007.

It was here two years later, that the hospice began installing remembrance tiles on its courtyard walls. The Cassidy’s were invited to choose one of these ceramic birds or leaves in memory of Jason. Don and Cheryl are now regular visitors to the courtyard. “That’s the nice part of it, we can come up here we know as part of a family and we’re always made to feel welcome and we can sit out here as long as we like… it’s really a wonderful place.”

A place and a space that has been enhanced through the work and vision of Auckland ceramicist Bob Steiner and his wife Alison.

Bob and Alison Steiner in front of a batch of newly fired ceramics at their Avondale pottery studio
Bob and Alison Steiner in front of a batch of newly fired ceramics at their Avondale pottery studio

Bob Steiner’s career in pottery was ignited at the age of 15 when he received his first throwing wheel from his father.  Inspired by a secondary-school art teacher, Bob built a diesel-fuelled kiln at home and never looked back. Ten years living and working in the Hokianga in the Far North, fostered a passion for integrating New Zealand’s native flora and fauna into his ceramic work.

examples of pottery

Back in Auckland it was his garden in Kingsland that continued to inspire him. When Bob decided he wanted to create larger pieces for outdoor settings, it was his wife Alison who saw the potential in the courtyard of Mercy Hospice. “I kept looking at the wall art thinking it is so beautiful it would really good to see it on mass... I went to Mercy Hospice and talked to them about doing a composition just in their foyer. And she said ‘well we’ve got this big courtyard’ and I went out there and it was like, wow this is really amazing… and it evolved from there.”

As the panels were composed, the individual tiles were sold to raise all important funds for Mercy, provides specialist palliative care to around 1000 people with life limiting illnesses and their families. The memorial garden was completed in February of this year, with the unveiling of the final composition and in total the art installation covers more than 16 meters of wall space.

Titled Past, present and future the project serves a double purpose, as much for the pleasure of the living as a remembrance of those who are no longer here. While Bob Steiner and his wife Alison say they feel a great responsibility about how the installation and its impact, they say it’s a project they feel honoured to be involved with. “It’s really special and you don’t want people to feel like it’s just a commercial thing,” says Alison. "Yes we have to make a living but on the other side of it it’s just sharing and giving people the opportunity to have something beautiful around them… it’s really lovely to know that there are items there giving them pleasure or comfort.”