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Bolivar artist creates jewelry for Beads of Courage

| Wednesday, June 25, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
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Andrew Thornton of Bolivar and Jean Baruch, executive director of Beads of Courage, attend the Beads and Button Show in Milwaukee.

A unique butterfly bead is the focal point in a colorful necklace created by local artist Andrew Thornton.

Thornton's jewelry was crafted for the second annual Design Challenge to benefit Beads of Courage, a nonprofit organization designed to support children undergoing treatment for serious illnesses. The program encourages the children to tell their story using colorful beads as meaningful symbols to commemorate milestones they have achieved in their recovery process.

“I'm deeply honored to be a part of this project,” said Thornton of Bolivar. “It breaks my heart to see how much these kids have to go through. I'm happy that beading can bring them and their families a little comfort.”

The second in the series of bead design challenges, the project required 10 children within the Beads of Courage program to design beads representing various positive affirmations.

The designs were then given to glass bead-makers, who created the beads based on the children's drawings. After the beads were made, 10 jewelry designers from across the nation were asked to create a piece of jewelry using the glass bead.

“We call the design challenge ‘Creativity in Full Circle' because it begins with an original drawing from a Beads of Courage member, is translated into a glass bead by a talented artist and finally, comes full circle when created into a piece of jewelry by a fabulous jewelry designer,” said Dr. Jean Baruch, Beads of Courage executive director,

“A bead is just a bead until it is strung and one is able to wear it symbolically,” she added. “We are so thankful for the participation of all the jewelry designers that donated their time and talent to create a wearable piece of art.”

Thornton was given the “life” bead, which features a bright, happy butterfly.

It was designed by a 7-year-old female patient at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Stanford, Calif., and made by Elizabeth Bunn, an artist from Texas who specializes in lamp-work glass beads.

“I wanted my design to be light, playful and make the bead the center of attention,” said Thornton.

Thornton said he pulled from the rainbow of colors in the bead to accentuate and compliment it. He wove Swarovski crystals into the wire and added African recycled glass and vintage flower headpins.

“I used a Japanese knot-braiding technique called kumihimo to combine eight different colors of Soft Flex Co. beading wire,” Thornton said. “The idea behind it was that we are all connected and our lives weave in and out with one another's.”

The jewelry crafted for the challenge was recently showcased at the Bead and Button Show in Milwaukee. From there, it will be used to raise awareness and funds for Beads of Courage.

“As a cancer survivor, I know just how difficult it is to deal with the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of illness and recovery. Beads of Courage is a wonderful cause that helps patients and families deal with treatment, recovery and building awareness,” said Thornton.

On a visit to the program's headquarters in Tucson several years ago, Thornton said he had the opportunity to meet some of the children in the program.

“The kids are my heroes; their stories are inspiring and encouraging,” he said. “They face hardship with bravery and use creativity as a way to cope. They add beauty to the world to combat the ugliness of disease.”

Sara Oehler, sales and marketing manager of the Soft Flex Co., a leading innovator in the manufacturing of beading wire, said her company was thrilled to be a sponsor for the challenge.

“We think Beads of Courage offers a beautiful opportunity to commemorate the journey of courage and strength of each child in the program,” Oehler said. “Beads are some of the first artifacts known to mankind. We collect them and adorn ourselves in them as a reflection of our unique personalities. We hope that our sponsorship of the Beads of Courage program will inspire others to get involved as well.”

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC implemented the Beads of Courage program in December 2006. They became the first hospital to utilize the program in a heart center.

“We are currently challenging 10 new hospitals for the third in the series of the design challenges to be featured in 2015,” Baruch said.

Cami DiBattista is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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