From the Ashes

by Clayton Freeman April 02, 2022

From the Ashes

The subject of death is complicated, misunderstood, and far too often framed as a taboo subject in many of the conversations that we either have or largely do not have as a collective society in the US. From a biological science aspect, death is as much a part of life as eating, breathing, sleeping yet we tend to approach the substance of death with an abnormal amount morbid inclinations and disparaging associations. Given the proceedings of the pandemic over the past two years and more recently the war in Ukraine it is evident that no matter the corporeality of death and it's certainty, what appears to be unpredictable is our reaction and healthy acceptance for this part of life.

Death, should not be taken lightly. The opposite side of this yin/yang metaphor and I argue the more valuable perception is that life should be taken more seriously and with far greater appreciation than we are currently affording. Specifically the struggles, sadness, joys, and beauty that life affords should not be ascertained through morbid innuendos of death.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was a Swiss-American psychiatrist born July 8, 1926 sometimes referred to as "The Queen of Dying". Elisabeth devoted her life's work in psychiatry to near-death studies, among many of her accomplishments she authored of the internationally best-selling book On Death and Dying (1969). In this book she first proposed her theory of the five stages of grief, also known as the "Kübler-Ross model". At a young age Kübler-Ross worked as a laboratory assistant in Zürich Switzerland. Assisting refugees fleeing Germany during the carnage and fallout of World War II. These experiences aimed Elizabeth towards dedicating her life to the help and healing of others. She became a professor at the University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Medicine, Time magazine later awarded her with "Top Thinkers of the 20th Century", and Woman of the Year 1977. In Kübler-Ross's book and throughout her long and accomplished career existed a reoccurring thesis, to provide compassion and instal dignity for people confronting death.

It is not an abstruse understanding that we all will experience death during our lives, the more unfathomable notion is how will we respond when it occurs.

When I first began immersing myself in the culture of Mexico I had little understanding and appreciation for the way many people of Mexico regarded death and honored friends and family members who had died. But after encountering and understanding more of the diverse values, heritage, and traditions shared in these communities my ignorance slowly melted away. Dia de Los Muertos can easily be misinterpreted if you have not immersed yourself in the traditions of the native people who celebrate and take part in the festivities. One also starts to understand that it is a way of being; to have an appreciation for life by remembering the departed and honoring the lessons and happiness they shepherded into our lives, everyday not only during a holiday that occurs two days out of the year.

Intertwined with every design that we develop and create at Zenwaro exists not just a singular story, rather multiple. When our family began developing some of our initial designs my father would spend a gratuitous amount of time with the owner of each artisan studio commonly referred to as either "El Jefe" or "La Jefa", he did not necessarily belabor the significance for why the shape of a particular glass mold was so essential or explain why the angle of an iron bar needed to be in very specific direction. His intent was less product driven and more amiable in nature, with an inquisitive charm that only he possessed was a genuine disposition set on relationship building. No matter how much time I believed he was wasting, he was stubbornly consistent in his approach. While we exerted intense focus on minute design details at times sacrificing our sanity to develop and craft each collection of sculptural glass hearts to it's perfection, my dad would idle his "laissez faire, no bad days" approach and our artisans not only loved this genuine character, they also warmly embraced him for it.

Discover Mexico travels through Mexico

01. Harry on his first trip to Mexico meeting with artisans in the tiny town, Mata Ortiz, where the people in the village create the most amazing detailed designs are painted with hair brushes on vessels built with local clay.  The pueblo of Mata Ortiz has since become world-renowned for the beautiful vessels created there. | 02. Harry with Laureano in a tiny town in Michoacan.  Laureano is an award-winning artist who creates the elegantly detailed Catrinas featured on our Zenwaro website  Every piece Laureano produces is truly one-of-a-kind and is hours in the making. | 03. Harry in the warehouse at Berbere Imports in Los Angeles standing next to one of their pieces created by artisans in the Far East. Berbere Imports now displays many of our one-of-a-kind items created by our artisans in Central Mexico.

When my father died in the last weeks of 2017 in Mexico despite our collective family imploring him to return to the United States to seek medical treatment, he respectfully rejected our desires. He was content with a peaceful sentiment that he was right where he was supposed to be. Ruminating over the nearly two decades of traveling and working throughout Mexico with Harry at the helm there was no shortage of discoveries made, ideas shared, and creations we collaborated on together. Notably the Decanter and Divine hearts from the Movement Collection was a joint endeavor and in the course of product development bonded our immediate family to our extended family of artisans. An alliance that required years of technical design alterations in glass blowing, mold making, and artisanal iron work. Paying no mind that when my father's splendor and humble nature departed from a physical form that a vessel conceived through a shared appreciation for culture, craftsmanship, and great design would become a vessel for his ashes...


Clayton Freeman
Clayton Freeman


Cofounder, Product Designer, Team Member at Zenwaro™

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