You may not recognise her name, but you will know Laurel Burch’s art from handbags, mugs and earrings. Laurel’s story is so inspiring, overcoming so much in her life; becoming the much-loved artist of such vibrant paintings that exude happiness.
Laurel’s work has been transformed into cross stitch kits by Mill Hill. Now you can enjoy the process of creating her work with the kaleidoscope of colour she used. To celebrate the arrival of these gorgeous kits we have taken a look at her life and work.
An extract from Laurel’s website describes her early life: At the age of 14, Laurel Burch left her tumultuous home life in Southern California with nothing more than a paper bag of clothing and the rare bone disease osteopetrosis, that she was born with. Cooking, cleaning, and babysitting for her room and board, she embarked on a search for some stable ground to support her fragile body. With no job, and no money, Laurel Burch reached the Golden Gate of San Francisco.
It was here that she began making her own jewellery out of coins, bones and metal found in junkyards. People were fascinated by her jewellery, asking her to make more custom pieces for themselves. Local stores took notice and started to stock her work. A chance encounter with businessman Shashi Singapuri gave her business a huge boost when he took samples of her work to China. The Chinese were so intrigued by her designs that in 1971 they invited her to meet with them. This was a huge deal as China was still closed to Americans at that time. It was here where she discovered cloisonné, a kind of enamel work which has sectioned-off brightly coloured areas of enamel that form a larger pattern.
During this time that Laurel began to teach herself to paint. It was these paintings that would later be turned into bags, t-shirts, jewellery and more. Despite her bone disease, she never stopped painting. While in hospital recovering, she would sit herself up in bed and paint. She would even paint with a cast on her arm. Some asked her if she would consider painting her pain to which she replied, “Why would I want to do that? I want to share things in the world that lift people.”
Laurel saw herself as a folk artist, telling stories. “In our fast-paced, changing world,” she said, “we need symbols that are a reminder of the ongoing world of the spirit.” On some level, her work was always about bringing different cultures together, and about our connection with the earth and all living things, ideas that have only increased in relevance today.
If you do one thing today, watch this video of Laurel on 30 Minutes, it is so uplifting. You get a real feeling for the passion, happiness and enthusiasm that goes into everything she created.
Tragically, Laurel passed away in September 2007 due to complications of her osteopetrosis. However, her legacy lives on in her art and the phenomenon of collecting her work. What Laurel accomplished in her life is nothing short of remarkable.