Column: Artist Kathy Clough discovers her Zen in Sea Glass
Kathy Clough doesn’t quite know why she began collecting sea glass off of New Bedford’s beaches in October 2015. But soon, she was filling up vases and containers of it in her house.
It became, she says, “like an addiction.”
Little did she realize at the time that the compulsion would cause something entirely new to rise up within her. It was her creative self - and it arrived just in time to see her through an emotionally challenging few years which would test her faith and health yet ultimately leave her feeling more spiritually whole than ever before.
For today, Kathy Clough is a glass artist whose work transcends artisanry and reflects true artistry.
Clough kept collecting sea glass even as she learned in December 2015 that her mother was suffering from aggressive cancer throughout her body. By the end of January 2016, her mother’s body surrendered and she passed away.
In the intervening month, Clough would slip out of St. Luke’s for a walk on West Beach — from where she could actually glimpse the hospital — and continue to collect the pieces of glass nature had washed up. It was a solace as well as a respite from the toll her mother’s illness was taking on both her, and her father, for whom she functioned as caregiver now.
After her mom’s death, Clough continued her beach walks through the winter. More glass was accumulated. And if you think at this point in the story, while grieving for her mom, she had an artistic epiphany, you’d be wrong.
Because before that happened, Kathy Clough saw cancer enter own life.
During a routine yearly examination, her doctor discovered a dark area within one of her breasts. It was concerning enough that even though her next mammography wasn’t scheduled until three months hence, she urged Clough to see to it right away.
It was good advice. The area turned out to be a highly aggressive form of ductal carcinoma breast cancer. Though caught early, Clough still had to endure chemotherapy and two surgeries, including a partial mastectomy.
“This group of angry cells,” she says, “caused a little monster to come out of me!”
Something else began to come out of her, too — and that something was much more welcome. It was a spiritual and soon artistic awakening that finally helped her complete a journey she had already instinctively began.
While the battle with cancer was hard-fought, she knew her way around a hospital. Indeed, she had worked in admitting at St. Luke’s for years — until she left not so long before facing both her mother’s and her own illness.
Like being drawn to the sea glass, she felt compelled to just leave and try something new. A lover of camping and the outdoors, on a whim, she decided to bring her administrative skills to a retail environment and began working at Camping World in Berkley.
She remains there to this day — and praises them for taking good care of her during her five month convalescence in 2016.
She also decided to become Reiki 1 certified — and checked that box.
And then there was all that sea glass.
“When I started collecting sea glass,” she says, “I didn’t know why I was so obsessed with it. I have now come to realize that my journey is like that of sea glass ... broken, tumbled by the sea, washed to shore, and given a second chance at life — through my sea glass.”
Transforming heartache and pain into hope, Kathy Clough taught herself to turn that sea glass into art. Shy at first, she was encouraged along the way by friends to keep at it — and also begin sharing it with the world.
She did that at home arts and crafts get togethers even as she continued to hone her skills — and realize her vision. Soon, just as the glass had piled up in her home, now work of exquisite skill and beauty began to fill her rooms.
She went from showing her burgeoning inventory at home shows to pop-up events, and then became a staple at the Acushnet Farmers Market.
This year, she was thrilled to bring her work to the William Street Bow To Stern Festival in late September, and is now poised to expose her artistry to an even wider audience.
On Saturday, Dec. 7, she’ll be at the BSV Weihnachtsmarkt in Walpole, an annual event that is patterned after a German outdoor holiday market. And on Sun. Dec. 8 and Sun. Dec. 15, she’ll be at the Providence Flea Holiday Market at the Waterfire Arts Center. (Follow events through her Facebook page, Facebook.com/landandseaglassbykathy.)
Lest you think you think she is abandoning New Bedford with these out of town gigs, rest assured she is not. Indeed, Kathy Clough exemplifies the creative spirit illuminating the city today, often in quiet out-of-the-way corners of the city. It is what defines New Bedford today. Within blocks of Clough in her West End neighborhood, you’ll also find the photographer Brandon Cabral and the Hatch Street Studios artist Lori Bradley.
Clough’s work has been commissioned, too and is in such demand that she now relies on buying sea glass from someone she became friends with through Facebook who delivers it washed and sorted.
That leaves mornings for her to work and to pursue her vision. The act of creation, she says, is her Zen. And her mission is to assemble sea glass and also agate and crystal in a way that says something while also delivering good energy.
Kathy Clough’s journey was fraught, but she has arrived at a good place. In a way, this New Bedford resident’s work in glass mirrors the progress the city has made along its current creative renaissance.
The good energy is being felt in neighborhoods everywhere...and it’s sometimes being washed upon the shore just waiting for someone like Kathy Clough to come along and collect it and breathe renewed life into a wondrous second act.
Steven Froias is a writer and editor who lives in New Bedford, MA. He can be reached at email@example.com.