Angels, Second Time Around

Posted in Art Blog on

In 1995 when my friend Jennifer’s daughter died of cancer, weeks after her second birthday, the grief was overwhelming.  I’d been experimenting with polymer clay and had the idea to make angel pins in Caitlin’s memory.  The first ones were rather primitive looking, but as I practiced, my techniques improved.  Since Caitlin had been bald virtually most of her life, due to chemo treatments, all angels were bald.

We soon started a small business called Caitlin’s Cousins.  I handled the artist/production side of the business and Jennifer took care of sales, marketing, and the accounting.  It was before the days of Facebook and Instagram, so we relied on face to face interactions for sales, mostly through baskets we’d prepare for interested sellers.  The first “basket” of angels was actually a plastic hospital tub that Jennifer took to her bereavement group.  The pins were especially popular with nurses and hospital personnel.  Around the same time, Caitlin’s family established a foundation to support pediatric cancer research and also families with children who had neuroblastoma.  We donated a percentage of each sale to the foundation and by the time we ended our business a few years later, thousands of Caitlin’s Cousins had made their way around the planet.  The angels gave us a reason to keep Caitlin’s story alive, which was healing for us both.

I haven’t worked much in polymer clay since those days.  Every now and then I’ll have a little project I can use the clay for, but mostly I’ve moved on to mixed-media.  I keep a small collection of angels in a cloth bag in my drawer to remember that phase of my artistic life.  Each time I look at them they remind me of that sad, and deeply precious time.  I’d mostly set aside the idea of making angels, until one day the idea came to me that I should add wings to some of the don’t worry dolls.  It was a natural expansion of my clothespin doll creations and I love making both.

All these years later, the dolls and new version of angels seem compatible with each other.  It seems like cousins of the Cousins have resurfaced.  A few weeks ago, Jennifer came over to look at my art, and see the angels, of course.  She asked if I could make up a basket for her so she could sell them to friends.  We both smiled and recognized the sweetness of the moment.  It was like the old days all over again.  I guess I’ll be making wings for awhile longer.