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Everyone wants to feel worthy, says artist whose designs help the homeless

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Three years ago Joan Aspinall came up with a way of using her ocean-inspired designs to give others a hand up.

Her collaboration with Bermuda’s mentally challenged resulted in a string of Christmas tree ornaments this year. In the past they have matted artwork, created mermaids out of bottles and sea fairies from shells.

The items are now on sale at Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore; the proceeds will be divided between the Transformational Living Centre that the charity is building for homeless families, and the artists themselves.

“I am so proud of them. Bermuda should be proud of them,” Ms Aspinall said. “The quality achieved by this special group is very special indeed; their accomplishments, plus the joy it gives to the participants in creating the products I designed, is my greatest reward."

She had been involved with a similar project “years ago” but it fell by the wayside. Always a fan of “home help”, on learning the interest was still there she jumped at the chance to relaunch the initiative with “easy-to-follow instructions” and “line drawings on cards with a series of steps”.

“I met with the supervisor of Vocational Services and we got to work right away with simple projects such as bookmarks and special sand and shell bottles,” said Ms Aspinall, an artist and author of several books. “Gradually I added more complex products to create, thus the arrival of my favourite line called Sea Faeries. The ability range of the special needs Bermudian is varied. The concentration of eye-hand control is not everyone's skill, but those who can achieve that level are marvellous.

“Upon receiving a prototype of the design, the clients were able to duplicate it exactly to the last element. Not many people have the patience and concentration this duplication requires.”

The designs, which come “in many sizes and every imaginable shell combinations” are better buys than the goods “swamping Bermuda's tourist market from foreign countries”, she said.

“The tourists don't support Bermudian crafters as much as they support the crafters in the Far East. We are an island of importers. If you have enough money in your pocket to pay for people in other countries to make products for the tourist market stamped with the word "Bermuda", you're in business. Open your eyes, Bermudians, and acknowledge the hidden potentials you have on our island. We could have a good home crafter industry.”

Ms Aspinall is particularly proud of the sea fairies made out of plastic wine bottles and bags she had been given by a friend who thought she might put them to creative use.

It took some time for her to work out a plan but she eventually decided that if she weighed “the bottles down, wrapped them in empty plastic bags, glued and twisted and curled” it would resemble “the torso of a woman”.

“Add layers of tulle, give her shell wings, a head, hair, and a name. Thus, the line of collectors' dolls was made. The clients do the glueing, the wrapping, and even thread the tulle for billowing skirts,” said Ms Aspinall, who completes the decorations herself.

"It is a marvellous transformation of recyclable products," she said. "We could create a home industry around this product alone.

“I think I can say I am the only artist who has given them challenging, fun things to do. They love the colours, the ribbons, the shells. I was able to offer them projects that were more challenging than stuffing mailers for companies. A lot was hit-and-miss at the beginning but, as you see, samples of their work are outstanding.”

As she does not work directly with them she does not know how many people are involved in producing her designs nor the amount of time it takes them to do it.

“When they finish the preliminaries of glueing, ribbon-tying, assembling, etc, I pick up the stock and finish the final decorations. That part can be tedious and long depending upon the actual item. I always think I can ‘zip’ through, but when I look again it has been hours.”

Sheelagh Cooper, board chairman of Habitat for Humanity, said she was thrilled to be able to add the designs to everything else on offer in the old Bluck’s building on Front Street.

“We’re happy to provide a vehicle through which these things can be sold to benefit [others],” she added.

Said Ms Aspinall: “It is the right of every human to enjoy the feelings of being worthy and have self-esteem. It is the right of every human to seek and cultivate that small spark in their inner being called 'creativity' which opens the door to two important elements: the first one is a flood of success of being able to accomplish a task, no matter how big or small, and the second is the satisfaction it gives them in respect and worth.

"Everyone wants to feel they are worthy, that they have achieved something that makes them happy and feel good inside. Working with one's hands to create things that will eventually become something quite beautiful is an avenue to self-awareness and happiness.”

Joan Aspinall’s designs are on sale at Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore on Front Street (File photograph)
Joan Aspinall’s collaborations with mentally challenged “home helpers” are on sale at Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore on Front Street (Photograph supplied)
Joan Aspinall’s collaborations with mentally challenged “home helpers” are on sale at Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore on Front Street (Photograph supplied)

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Published December 28, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated December 24, 2020 at 11:04 am)

Everyone wants to feel worthy, says artist whose designs help the homeless

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