Every Paperblanks book is inspired by world art and culture, by traditional craft and practice, and by visionaries, rebels and artists across the ages. Paperblanks Stories is a blog series about the origins and stories behind some of our designs.
Laurel Burch was a self-taught artist and “flower child” who sold handmade jewellery on the streets of San Francisco in the 1960s. Later on, she continued to rely on her intuition and passion, speaking from the heart with an unmistakable style that was the manifestation of her love of life and strong imaginative nature.
Our experience in knowing Laurel Burch personally has inspired our multiple collections with designs featuring her artwork. Indeed, we find her life story to be deeply moving and poignant.
Laurel Burch’s Fierce Spirit
“I refuse to have anything in my life that I can’t turn around into something magical and beautiful. I just refuse.” Laurel Burch (December 31, 1945 – September 13, 2007)
Laurel Burch possessed the gift and ability to turn the debilitating pain she endured throughout her lifetime into brilliantly coloured, vibrant and moving artwork. Adamantly refusing to delve into her physical pain as subject matter, Burch instead wanted her art to convey “hopefulness, brightness and goodness,” her goal being to pass along joy and share the things in the world that lift people’s spirits.
Born with a rare bone disease called osteopetrosis, Burch’s fierce spirit kept her alive decades beyond what doctors expected. Throughout her life Burch suffered over a hundred bone fractures as a result of her disease, yet even during her long periods of convalescence, when she was forced to paint from a bed or wheelchair, she seldom put down her brushes.
“I have had to overcome such an enormous number of obstacles that I have developed a belief system which allows me to feel like I can accomplish almost anything,” she said. “Of course, I can’t, but sometimes the courage to say ‘I can’ is all it takes.”
Burch moved to San Francisco in the 1960s when she was 20 years old, supporting herself and her two small children by selling handmade jewellery she made from bones, beads, and coins, along with scrap metal she salvaged and hammered out on the back of a frying pan.
Pointedly ignoring fashion trends, she always maintained that her goal was to appeal to all people, not just “the bold and the eccentric.” When fascinated passersby admired a piece of her jewellery, Burch responded by giving it to them. Stores in the Haight Ashbury district helped establish Burch’s name by carrying selections of her handmade jewellery, and a businessman of the area, Shashi Singapuri, was intrigued enough to take samples to China –a country which Burch was invited to visit in 1971.
In China, Burch discovered cloisonné, a traditional craft technique for decorating metalwork, which marked the beginning of her signature style. She created a dozen paintings using this method, and then had the designs made into earrings. Soon she worked her patterns into many other media – including fabric – and partnered with Singapuri for eight years producing more artwork crafted in multicoloured cloisonné.
Artist and Businesswoman
In 1979 Burch parted ways with Singapuri and started her own company – Laurel Burch Artworks – which she built into a multimillion-dollar company throughout the 1980s and ’90s. As an artist and a businesswoman, Burch learned it all herself through direct experience and experimentation.
Yet it was painting that brought her delight throughout her life, for through this medium she viewed herself as a folk artist, telling stories, and she devoted herself to creating beauty through her paintings.
“In our fast-paced, changing world,” she once said, “we need symbols that are a reminder of the ongoing world of the spirit.”
The Strength of the Human Spirit
Burch died in 2007 at the age of 61, due to complications with her disease. Yet her life story remains a remarkable example of what the human spirit is capable of achieving.
Paperblanks’ Tribute to the Magic and Beauty of Laurel Burch
Laurel Burch’s contribution to the Paperblanks collection is considerable. Her designs are featured on over 20 books and in six different series: Fantastic Felines, Playful Creations, Blossoms, Spirit of Womankind, The Lovers, and Mystical Horses. To find out more about these series go here.