Ona Sostakas
A life all too short

Ona was the first of three people I knew fairly well to die this year. I can't really talk about the other two, as they're relatives, but Ona, at least, I can honor publicly.

I started making beads around 1996, but it took about two years of farting around to get a proper torch and kiln, and my efforts until then were rather sketchy—I was convinced I wouldn't be happy without a programmable controller: I really was rather freaked out about the whole annealing thing. I'm just as glad I did get one, even if I did have to wait months and months for it to get built.

Possibly the last beads Ona ever made; certainly the last she made at my studio. 2012

I met Ona at UM, where she served as a studio assistant for Don Miller's lampworking program. Though Peggy Prielozny covered all the material I needed to know in a weekend, I am too slow a learner to absorb that much info that quickly; so I took another beginning class, spread over 10 or 12 weeks. Ona was the acknowledged expert for the hollow mandrel-wound technique, so I learned the backbone of my beadmaking techniques from her.

She adored Shane Fero's work; he was, so far as I know, her favorite lampwork artist. His sinuous, fantastic forms showed up particularly in the elongated fins of her fish, for which she was known.

I have only been able to find this one picture. It was taken at UM-Dearborn, during a week long Loren Stump workshop on 26Nov1999. SOSTAKAS, ONA TETYANNA Age 45, January 17, 2013.

Ona herself was fat, with quite beauiful, fair skin and striking, straight red shoulder length hair, with, I believe, hazel eyes; her voice was distinctive; and her nose sharp. She tended to wear solid color tops in jewel tones, and pants; and gold-rimmed glasses. She was intelligent, sarcastic, a fellow sf&f fan: her email addy, e2spiders@aol.com, came from a rather obscure television sf fandom, back in the days of AOL chat rooms, with whom she'd made some good friends. Like me, she preferred the earlier Harry Potter books to the later ones. She wrote fan-fic, once upon a time, though I never saw any of it till she after she'd died.

Ona often gave me beads in exchange for studio time, but this unique ‘square’ wizard ring I shamelessly begged from her, because I loved this style of bead so much.

She was an atheist, given to complaint, and very generous with her knowledge, which she shared freely. She had one point studied biology, but evidently failed the GRE; and after working at Tim Horton's (as a manager, if I recall correctly) loathed food service with a passion. She wanted to take over the glass program after Don retired, or better yet, had a dream of opening her own school, like Arrowmount. It always seemed to me an utter pipe dream, though certainly a worthwhile one: we both, I think, appreciated good teaching, and the idea that people should be free, indeed encouraged, to reach their artistic potential.

She adored her nieces (meeces), though got to see them little during the times she worked at my studio, because she'd become estranged from her brother (and her mother as well.) She missed the cats that still lived with her mother.

3 beads by Ona. The spot and streak on Thompson enamel is collection of my student, F. The cherries she made for me, again, because I liked them. The floral was a gift from her brother at the funeral: he allowed us to choose a bead as a memento. One of the beads he had, I made. He offered to give it back, but...I liked the idea of her caring enough to keep it. It was a yellow harlequin twist of 96 glass.

They both spoke at the funeral. Her mother never threw away any of her glass or torch, or tools, as Ona had suspected she had. Her brother bitterly regretted the lost years. (She reconciled with her family before she died.) I told her she was welcome to make beads at my studio, because this was an easy thing to do, and I did genuinely enjoy seeing her. —Just not too often![1]

She was underemployed for years: she lived with a friend, Deb, the last several years of her life. Her parents were divorced, and her mother mentioned that, the one good thing that came out of their estrangement was that Ona got to know her dad better: one reason I didn't see her much during the last few months was that her dad asked her to house-sit. While Ona deeply appreciated her friend's generosity, she also chafed at being dependent; and the peace, silence, and solitude was a balm on her soul that I certainly understood.

By then, I assume, the ovarian cancer that killed her was becoming serious. A mutual friend told me that she'd felt something ‘not right’ for over a year, but of course, with no health insurance and hardly any money—financial troubles, she'd hinted, were at the root of her estrangement with her mother—she didn't it checked until it was far too late. The guild collected money[2] to buy her a wig, but she spent the sum on three ‘fun’, less expensive wigs: because there was no point in getting something more durable.

She was, in a very real sense, a victim of our health care system: had we socialized medicine, health care for everyone, there's a good chance she'd still be alive. —I suppose her life might be held as an example of ‘wasted potential’, whatever that means: again, I heard she suffered from depression, and I suspect that was part of the reason she had so much difficulty—making art, selling it, getting a job that would make her self-supporting. I had no help to offer except the opportunity to make beads now and then, little enough that that was. I deeply regret the lost potential, and the only real way, it seems to me, for her to live on, is to celebrate her very real talent, which I have tried here to capture, somewhat.

This shot, grouped for color, shows another of her scrolled beads, mirrored inside (like german xmas ornaments) —a technique Don had us try, at, um, the Freddie Birkhill ornament class? Again, it's in the collection of F.

I told her the beads she'd made were pinned to my pin-up board, waiting for her, the last time I saw her, at Brighton Beads, where she worked, part-time.[3] Don't worry about them, she said. I'll pick them up eventually.

She never did.

[1]I want this to be honest, dammit! But, having found a photo of her (that I own the rights to) I still miss her, still grieve. And her beads are still pinned to my corkboard, waiting for her to pick up. Someday, I'll string them up on tigertail, with a copper tag bearing her name, like I have the other gifts. But not just yet.

[2]Again, at Cindi B's instigation

[3]She owed this position to the generosity of my friend Cindi B, who felt she ought to have a real job, not just helping out at Don's; and in any event, by then, she and Don had parted ways, though he too came to her funeral.)