Eager to do meaningful work, an window designer transforms into a craftsman.
- Posted on Aug 17, 2012
Over dinner, my wife, Jan, and I always talked about our day. Lately, though, our evening talks made me frustrated.
“A woman came into the ER with shortness of breath,” Jan said. Jan had been a cardiac nurse for 10 years. She recognized the warning signs of congestive heart failure. “The patient got to us just in time,” Jan said. “What about you? How was your day?”
“Nothing worth mentioning,” I said, looking down at my plate and rearranging my food with my fork. Jan had made a difference. And with someone’s life. I’d spent the day doing window treatments. Wasn’t there a more fulfilling way for me to help people?
The next day I drove downtown to run some errands. Asheville was a small, artsy town nestled in the Appalachian Mountains. The shop windows were filled with crafts for sale. Especially angels. Anyone could see how popular they were.
I could make angels too, I thought. Really unique angels.
That night Jan and I sat out on the porch swing. I listened to the crickets, watched some lightning bugs shoot across the yard. “I want to start making angels,” I blurted out. “Lots of shops carry angel stuff. The market must be huge.”
Jan rocked the porch swing back and forth with her feet. “You think you can make something beautiful?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “But I’ve got to find meaningful work. I want to touch people. Comfort them. Inspire them. I’ve at least got to try.”
We organized a workplace in the basement, and eventually I came up with a figurine that actually sold locally. I expanded to other towns, and set up shop in an actual studio. I hoped my angels were doing what I intended, but I had no way of really knowing.
One Saturday after working all day, I flipped through a trade magazine. It featured a piece on antique sheep figurines from Germany. The figurines were made of simple materials, like porcelain and real wool, the article said.
Sheep, I thought. There was something so innocent about them, so pure, so...comforting.
“Sheep?” Jan said when I told her about them later. “You want to go from making angels to making sheep?”
“There’s something about them,” I said. “I don’t know, maybe it is crazy.”
“Well,” she said, chuckling, “you certainly won’t have any competition in the marketplace.”
She was right. I had never heard of a modern-day artist who specialized in sheep!
After several weeks researching and tinkering in the studio, I finally had a few sheep figurines I was happy with. I headed for a shop in town. “Nice to see you, Colin,” the owner said. “But we don’t need any more angels yet. I still have a few left to sell.”
“Actually I’m here about my new line,” I said. I handed her one of my new creations.
The shop owner put on the glasses that hung by a chain around her neck and took the sheep figurine from me. “It’s got a nice hefty weight to it. And is this real fur?”
“It sure is. I use wool, mohair and alpaca.”
“You know, I have a girlfriend going through a divorce. This may be just the thing.”
Soon my sheep were selling as well as my angels. One day I got a phone call in my studio. “You don’t know me,” a woman said, “but I bought one of your sheep.”
“I hope there isn’t a problem,” I said. No one had ever called about one of my angels, and I was every bit as careful with my sheep.
“Oh, no,” the caller said. “My mother’s in the hospital recovering from surgery. The room looked so bare until I put a sheep by her bedside. Now every time she looks at it, she smiles. I think it really makes her feel better.”
That was my first contact with a satisfied customer, but not the last. There was the man who ordered some sheep to be used as models for the person carving his wife’s gravestone. The woman who bought six sheep and found herself actually playing with them like a child.
“I’m forty-five years old!” she said. “But every time I touch these sheep I feel so happy.” Every time I heard one of these stories, I thanked God for letting me know that my work had made a real difference in someone’s life.
It’s been almost 20 years since I made the leap to sheep figurines. Now I also make pigs, lions, bison, Nativities and even an angel, but sheep are by far the most popular.
I’ve traveled to more than 11 countries to study sheep, and make over 60 different breeds. I never get tired of hearing how much comfort and joy my collection, Colin’s Creatures, brings to my customers, and I never get tired of thanking the angels that led this shepherd to his flock.
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