Art cannot be used to show the validity of Christianity; it should rather be the reverse. Hans Rookmaaker

Deborah Tompsett: A Thousand Bottles of Tears

ArtWay Visual Meditation 16 June 2019

Deborah Tompsett: A Thousand Bottles of Tears

Eloquent Tears

by Jonathan Evens

‘I Can’t Cry Hard Enough’ is a song by David Williams and Marvin Etzioni that I first heard on a Victoria Williams album. It captures a common experience of grief and raises the question as to what happens to all those tears that we cry.

Deborah Tompsett began making tear bottles in September 2007 as a response to her wondering what sort of vessel could contain our most private prayers and expressions, that no one but God hears. Her inspiration for such a container originated with Psalm 56:8, ‘You number my wanderings; put my tears into your bottle; are they not in your Book?’ But, as she researched the idea, she also discovered the ancient tradition of pilgrims carrying tear-shaped vessels as they journeyed.

Deborah’s installation ‘A Thousand Bottles of Tears’ was first exhibited in 2015 in various parts of Chichester Cathedral and has since won the 2018 Chaiya Art Awards. Each of the tear bottles in the installation have been formed from a heart-shaped lump of clay, varying from the size of a baby's fist to that of a large male. An individual’s fist size is estimated to be the same as the size of their heart.

Deborah has used a variety of clays and mark-making techniques to ensure that each tear jar is individual – as is our experience of grief – and that the surface marks vary and intrigue evoking differing responses to grief. In more recent installations she has introduced a degree of visitor participation with words written on paper by visitors placed in chosen bottles and re-kilned. The process of re-firing transforms each bottle as the paper turns to ash within the bottles and some pots gain new markings, providing a visual and tactile record of the words offered.

Following the initial installation, Deborah has collaborated with TV producer John Forrest and his daughter Mandy Johnson to explore the emotional impact of the tear bottles and create ideas for future projects raising awareness of mental health issues and giving individuals opportunities to tell their stories. A tear bottles website ( takes this aspect of the initiative forward by providing opportunities to get involved.

Deborah began by seeking a vessel to hold our tears of sorrow and joy, our shouts of pain and grief, our questions and thanksgivings. As Williams and Etzioni state, now that our loved one is gone, we can't cry hard enough for that person to hear us now. Nevertheless our tears, as Washington Irving remarked, are not a mark of weakness, but of power: ‘They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition and of unspeakable love.’ That is why there is ‘a sacredness in tears’, a sacredness that is captured and held in this installation. ‘Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come unto thee.’


Deborah Tompsett: A Thousand Bottles of Tears, 2015, tear bottles from heart-shaped lumps of clay.

Deborah Tompsett, B.A Fine Art/Sculpture, is a Sussex-based artist whose work encompasses ceramics, sculpture and painting. She is strongly committed to working within her community, collaborating with schools, care homes and inter-generational groups to create works together that reflect the uniqueness of each setting and its participants. Her personal artwork continues this engagement with the world and the people around her, their contribution often extending and enriching the narrative of each piece. She embraces the accidental and experimental in the process of making art and uses the visual and tactile language of texture, colour, and light to explore the idea of 'the poetry of living space'. She is a judge for the Chaiya Art Awards 2020.;;

Jonathan Evens is Associate Vicar, Partnership Development at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, England. A keen blogger, he posts regularly on issues of faith and culture at His journalism and art criticism ranges from Pugin to U2 and has appeared in a range of publications, including Artlyst and Church Times. He runs a visual arts organisation called commission4mission, which encourages churches to commission contemporary art and, together with the artist Henry Shelton, has published two collections of meditations and images on Christ's Passion. Together with the musician Peter Banks he has published a book on faith and music entitled ‘The Secret Chord’.     



1. EXPOSITION AND ARTICLE ABOUT SCOTTISH ARTISTS - 27 February – 1 September, John Bellany and Alan Davie: Cradle of Magic, Newport Street Gallery, Newport Street, London, SE11 6AJ.  Jonathan Evens posted an article on John Bellany and Alan Davie on ArtLyst, entitled ‘Spiritual Joy and Magic’. ‘The work of Davie and Bellany shares an interest in and engagement with religion; this being an interest shared, too, with some of those influenced by them.’ Read more

2. VERGE CONFERENCE IN CANADA - 26 September – 27 September, Trinity Western University, 7600 Glover Rd, Langley, British Columbia, Canada: 12th VERGE CONFERENCE of the School of The Arts, Media + Culture, co-sponsored by the School of Nursing, will take place at Submissions are welcomed from any discipline that engage any topic relating to the arts and wellness. Please submit presentation abstracts (300 words) and a short bio (100 words) to Presentation length is 25 minutes with an additional 10 minutes for discussion of each paper. We welcome nonconventional forms of presentation, including lecture-recitals and other performances (a different time frame may be proposed). In order to facilitate discussion throughout the conference, no more than thirty presenters will be chosen to present and there will be no more than two concurrent sessions. The deadline for proposals is May 21, 2019, with notification of acceptance by June 15. The Verge is a scholarly initiative of TWU’s School of the Arts, Media + Culture, aimed at exploring interdisciplinary intersections of the arts with various other disciplines and cultural concerns. Past conferences themes have included spirituality, the Inklings, environment, ethics, knowing, social action, and identity.

3. IN CHARTRES, FRANCE - 8 February – 31 December, Centre International du Vitrail, 5 Rue du Cardinal Pie, Chartres : Images et lumière, le vitrail contemporain en France 2015-2019. Le centre international du vitrail (CIV) de Chartres fait actuellement, dans le cadre d’une exposition, le point sur la création contemporaine de vitraux de ces cinq dernières années en France. Plus de 60 œuvres, conçues par 19 artistes contemporains sont exposées dans les grandes salles voûtées du XIIIe siècle du CIV. Au total, ce ne sont pas moins que 28 chantiers de vitraux, réalisés entre 2015 et 2019, qui sont présentés au sein de l’exposition ; un témoignage fort de la vitalité de la création contemporaine dans ce domaine. Jours et heures d’ouverture :

4. IN VEZELAY, FRANCE - 8 July – 13 July, Maison Saint Bernard, rue des Ecoles, Vézelay: Université d'été : Imagine une église. Les églises, créées pour la liturgie, mobilisent de multiples ressources architecturales, iconographiques, musicales qui leur donnent cette capacité à dire le mystère de Dieu, de l’homme et du cosmos dans la pierre, le bois, le marbre, la lumière et les sons qu’elles assument dans une polyphonie méconnue et largement sous-exploitée. L’Université d’été « Imagine une église » se propose d’explorer l’interface entre culte et culture dans les églises dont nous héritons dans un dialogue fécond. L’Université d’été « Imagine une église » s’adresse à toutes les personnes investies dans la vie cultuelle et culturelle de nos églises : membres des commissions diocésaines d’art sacré, musiciens, liturgistes, artistes, architectes, étudiants, membres d’association de sauvegarde du patrimoine, et plus largement toute personne investie dans les multiples projets destinés à faire vivre nos églises. L’Université d’été « Imagine une église » est une initiative commune du Theologicum - Faculté de Théologie et de Sciences Religieuses de l’ICP qui, à travers ses Instituts Supérieurs de Liturgie (ISL) et de Théologie des Arts (ISTA) forme depuis de nombreuses années les théologiens de la liturgie et des arts, et du Département Art sacré du Service National de la Pastorale Liturgique et Sacramentelle de la Conférence des Evêques de France.

For more exhibitions, lectures, conferences etc. inside and outside your country, click here

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