That Empty Space in Your Heart: Fill It with Assemblage

by Nancy Gershman

“If a mom has lost her baby in-utero,” Peggy asked me one day, “how can she honor her little baby’s memory, if she has not even laid eyes on her baby?”

This is, of course, the most vexing thing on earth. No photos other than one or two that catch “mom pregnant at the first trimester” and so forth. So if there are no photographs, yet there remains a palpable feeling that it’s not right to ignore the brief existence of that little baby, how’s a mother to bond with her child?

After all, whether it’s your child’s birthday or death anniversary, aren’t both events really just about continuing bonds?

One suggestion I like to throw out there is to explore the idea of making an assemblage – two-dimensional or three-dimensional constructions created from found objects. These elements could be man-made (as in the kind of tiny toy prizes you get from a gumball machine) or objects from nature (such as twisted pieces of driftwood or bird feathers).

If you’re a collector by nature, assemblage could be perfect for you. Which one of these types is you:

  1. You collected all these amazing objects since you were little to share with your baby girl or boy one day. (Bird-watching? Dress up? Flying to exotic places?)

B is for Boy by Elizabeth Rosen
Artist contact:

2. You want calming objects that can stand in as metaphors and symbols for What Might Have Been. (Reverence for children and for innocence in general?)

 An assemblage by artist Joseph Cornell

3. You have pent up feelings that need expression through art and exertion of excess raw energy.  Relief will be found through the art tool you choose:  maybe a little cutting, sawing, pinching or bending?  (Life is so unfair, so there!)

An assemblage by artist Kofi Setordji

4. You want to build a little shrine for your unborn child that’s in keeping with your faith tradition. This could include incense or other sensory objects to touch, smell and see during your time meditating or praying.

Choir Boy by Elizabeth Rosen
Artist contact:

By filling that empty space in your heart with a beautiful assemblage – and they will be beautiful regardless of how much rage or tears go into its making – you will be inventing a way to once again, open the conversation.

But remember, what’s important about this art form is to try and not buy your objects in an arts and crafts store. Take your inspiration from Rosen, Cornell and Kofi: find the meaningful bric-à-brac that lies all around you – those “lesser objects” that touch your deep sub-conscious before you even know why. Where you find found objects can have added significance, too, as you tell the story of your assemblage. For example, flip through magazines at the ob-gyn office for collage material.  Utilize that wrist band you saved from that sad day at the hospital. Or re-purpose the innards of broken watches or appliances you were about to recycle.

In other words, assemblage is a healthy way to say to the world: This is what goes on inside of me; a mom who lost her baby in utero.  The Artist welcomes your questions.

About the Author: Nancy Gershman comes from an artistic family. Her father’s mother was Viennese and a trained painter who could make these hyper-realistic drops of water on a leaf. Her dad was a weekend painter whose style was more expressionist. She also worked two decades in advertising and market research, teasing “the truth” out of interview subjects as a copywriter. She taught herself Photoshop and, for the first time, saw herself as an artist who had a gift for fitting images together into a cohesive whole but didn’t have “that itch” to create art for art’s sake. Rather, she preferred solving other people’s problems, not her own, through the act of being present, employing her dark sense of humor, and of course, cutting and pasting.

Nancy is married to a scientist whose career has been making computers more intelligent. They have two sons – one of whom is getting his post-doctorate in cognitive neuroscience and a younger son who is a musician working in film/video. Read Nancy’s previous article, Can a Magical Photo Really Make Us Smile Again?

For more information about Nancy Gershman and her studio, Art For Your Sake:
Email: Skype: NancyGershman Phone: 773-255-4677

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