The Story of Bailey's Heart
What began as a class project became a point of interest, a conversation starter and, a source of tears.
To begin, in November of 2017, I lost my best friend, ally, and muse, my flat-coated retriever, Bailey, and the grief I experienced was overwhelming. Fourteen years of companionship, habits, daily walks gone in her last breath.
I hid my despair, pushed it down, and refused to let it surface. I pause here to say that if you aren't a "dog person," it may be challenging to understand such sadness. Countless studies show that humans grieve more for losing a pet in many cases than for another human.
Try as I may, suppressing my feelings proved futile, manifesting itself with tears in unusual situations, like the grocery store or stuck in traffic.
A year later, and a little more under control, I decided to take a jewelry class to refresh my skills. Honestly, it was something to distract me. The course's final project was to combine several of the prior weeks' skills into one, hopefully, successful piece. I had no ideas and desperate for that lightning bolt of inspiration to hit me. A few things rattled around my head, all of them too predictable. My experience as a photographer and designer reminded me that inspiration is elusive. Relax, breathe, and wait, I told myself: a few troubled days and restless nights of sleep. Then one morning, there it was, right between my eyes, not quite fully formed, but a direction.
The first iteration of Bailey's Heart happened in an afternoon and of its own volition. The heart, melted, pierced, and broken; darkened by fire, polished by work and silver-stitched in an attempt to make it whole again.
A gem, one bright spot of remembrance. But which one? Only one stood out, a cabochon of carnelian.
My research revealed that carnelian imparts an acceptance of the life cycle and removes the fear of death. In ancient times, carnelian was used to protect the dead on their journey to the afterlife.
How was this happening? It was as if this piece was making itself. It was complete and imbued with a year of pain and sadness. What I couldn't see was how this hammered and beaten piece of copper would speak to others.
I decided to show Bailey's Heart at my first art fair. Not for sale, but as an example of my "other" work. That single piece brought people into my booth which caused them to call it to the attention of their companions. I chose the heart as the main image on a banner for the entrance to my booth. That, in turn, compels people to stop, point, and ask, "where is this piece?"
At that point, I decided to create limited edition hearts, leaving the original in a safe place.
Last summer, a woman stopped by my booth and inquired about the reproduction. Pointing to a picture of Bailey that is always on display, I told the story, angry at myself for the tears welling up in my eyes, but noticing the tears in her eyes as I finished the story.
She thanked me and left, taking one of my cards. Later that evening, I received a text message from the woman. It seems she had been thinking about the heart and my story the rest of the day and wondered if the piece was still available. Soon after, the woman returned to my booth, purchased the heart, then related her heartbreak and why she identified so much with it. I was stunned, surprised, and touched that something I made could have that effect on another person.
The kind, gentle, and ever-loving being that was Bailey inspired me, and in turn, passes her love to others with the hope that a heart, once broken, can be saved. In that sense, my girl lives forever.