Leaves of Change: A mother uses art to heal, and to remember
by Laura Johnson
lbjohnson@annistonstar.com
Jan 20, 2013 | 2646 views |  0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cindy Burch shows off one of her Rhubard leaf art pieces at Yvie’s in Alexandria. Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star
Cindy Burch shows off one of her Rhubard leaf art pieces at Yvie’s in Alexandria. Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star
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Cindy Burch will tell you that the thought of the life she’d dreamed for her two sons is almost too much to bear.

She will tell you she thinks of what her grandchildren might have looked like and imagines the kinds of fathers her boys would have been.

Burch is the mother of two of the four people who were gunned down in an Anniston Blockbuster almost 11 years ago. Her sons, Andrew, 19, and Joseph, 21, stopped by the McClellan Boulevard video store early in the evening of May 15, 2002, to pick up a rental. Instead the two young men lost their lives, along with store employees Austin Joplin and Doug Neal, in an act of wanton violence that still ranks among the worst ever seen in Calhoun County.

Today the Burch brothers would be mature adults and probably fathers if they were still alive, their mother believes.

When thoughts about what might have been overwhelm her, Burch finds reprieve in something more tangible, a form of artistic therapy she calls her “leaf art.” Burch’s leaf art pieces are made of cured and stained cement, often colored in the same hues that naturally appear in the Appalachian hillsides each fall.

“I think it saved me,” she says of her unusual artistic outlet.

Burch discovered the art form when, in the midst of depression, her sister gave her a small newspaper clipping with instructions for making leaf art. By that time, more than a year had passed since her sons’ deaths.

“She wanted me to have something to do,” Burch said. “She knew I could get leaves and concrete anywhere.”

Each piece is the actual size of the leaf it’s modeled after and shares the specific details of the foliage used to form it.

Burch’s first leaf art endeavor was modeled after a large Rhubarb leaf from her home state of Wisconsin.

On the back of that first work of art she stamped two small stars — one for Andrew and one for Joseph.

The stars, she said, serve as a comforting reminder that her sons are eternally secure with God.

Her family still sends the enormous Rhubarb leaves from Wisconsin, but Burch also crafts pieces from tree foliage common in Alabama. And those stars are now a signature feature of each one of her leaf art pieces.

Each piece is made of cured and stained cement. Once compete, it is often finished in a color that naturally appears in the Appalachian hillsides each fall.

Her artwork begins in nature, where Burch said she tromps through woods and clearings to find just the right leaf.

She then forms a bed of sand to make a mold. The next step is to mix cement together and pour it across the sand.

Another way she remembers her sons is by crafting her leaf art in their rooms. She said working in the place where her boys lived makes her feel somehow closer to them.

Burch said the artistic process has helped her manage overwhelming sadness and depression in the years since her sons have died.

“It lets you get out some of the anger, or relieves some of the stress,” Burch said. “I’m hoping that my art will take me down a better path.”

Burch’s art is sold at Yvies in Alexandria and can be viewed online in the store’s product gallery at www.yvies.com. Her work has also been included in local art shows and displayed in private residences.

Staff Writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_star.
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Leaves of Change: A mother uses art to heal, and to remember by Laura Johnson
lbjohnson@annistonstar.com

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