Funerary Urn For a Top Cat

Our beautiful cat, Emily, companion of 14 years, sadly passed away this week. The days blurred into one, as her condition gradually worsened, loosing her sense of balance and appetite. Yesterday, we had to allow her to drift into the Big Sleep. We will miss her terribly.

Thank goodness I was consoled by my wonderful friend, artist and ceramics mentor Stephanie Buttle over a drink a few nights before. A true creative, she reminded me to put the sadness into the clay. Steph suggested I make a funerary urn to place Emily’s ashes in. What could be more fitting? And another great excuse to work with unfired clay, that would allow Emily and the urn to melt back into feline Mother Earth.

Yesterday afternoon I did just that, and spent a perfect couple of hours with my daughter, who came home for the weekend to nest, condole and recooperate from the excesses of Uni. The stars seemed to be aligned as I went down into my basement to retrieve a bag of terracotta, only to uncover some forgotten clay with the perfect provenance – dug up from a depth of 25m from a construction site opposite our house a few years ago. This ‘home grown’ clay was a deep deep grey, very sticky, tricky to work with and cold to the touch. From that depth, drilled up by piling machines, it would not have seen the light of day for about 20,000 years. Primeval stuff.

The whole process felt very ancient too, linking back to the some of the earliest ceramics of human civilisation, where the passing of loved ones involved making effigies, and funerary urns to carry them back to Mother Earth or into the afterlife.

I’m not used to making ‘functional’ ware. We rolled the clay to make the base and sides of the urn, trying to ‘do a good job’ using wooden battens so that the clay was even, using a prosaic Vanish plastic tub as the form to wrap the slabs of clay around. Miscalculating the dimensions of the sides, a disconcerting, gapping hole stood there slightly accusingly. Instead of starting again to make the ‘perfect’ pot, I filled the gap with an extra slab of clay, pushing the two sides together roughly with my thumbs. The junction resembled the backbones of a spine. Uncanny.

The urn would need a lid. Why not decorate it with an Emily? We sat sculpting, trying to capture the form of Emily’s body. Together Elsa and I reminisced about Emily and then our making went very quiet. I based my little figure on a photo of the last time that she had sat drinking from her water bowl. It felt like we were making manifest our feline friend, and really conjuring her into, perhaps not life, but into existence. It was one of those beautiful moments, when a sense of peacefulness and purposefulness came together. Prrrr.