Workshop Uses Art to Help with Grieving

Artist will lead participants in writing to the departed

“Letters to the Dead: Beyond Words,” a two-hour workshop by Jennie Chien, in which those who are grieving write a letter to a loved one who has passed, will be held at RiverWinds Gallery, 172 Main St., Beacon at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 24. The workshop, which costs $40, provides an overview of the project, guidance in writing and materials.

Jennie Chien and her father (photo provided)

Jennie Chien and her father (photo provided)

“The letters to departed ones will be collected, shredded and cast into paper spirit houses, which will be the vessels that hold your words,” explained Chien, whose work is on display at the gallery through Nov. 8.

The shreds from the letters will be used in a raku firing of a clay spirit house on Nov. 1 at the Rockland Center for the Arts in Nyack. The burning paper infuses the clay spirit house with the spirit of the written words, Chien explained. Participants will receive both the paper cast and raku-fired spirit house.

“Grieving is a primal emotion that can be uncontrollable,” said Chien, who lives in Nyack. “The physical act of writing to someone who has died engages the higher process of the brain and memory, which helps to control the grief. It doesn’t eliminate the grief, but having processed it, the grief becomes a part of you rather than controlling you.”

She added: “My father died 25 years ago and I could never talk about him without tears in my eyes. After sending him a letter and infusing the words in a spirit house, I felt more at peace with his memory.”

Chien’s project was made possible with funds from the Arts Council of Rockland and the New York State Council on the Arts. For information, call 845-838-2880 or visit

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