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The Grapevine
Adamstown, PA
Volume 13, Issue 15
Thursday, December 29, 2011
five. exhibit opening at
Lancaster's Mulberry Art Studios

Throughout January, Mulberry Art Studios of Lancaster will host an exhibition of art work created by women who have lost their children.

The exhibition, five., opens on Jan. 6, a day after Madeline Cole should have celebrated her fifth birthday. Madeline’s birthday was also the day her parents, Richy and Stephanie Paige Cole, said goodbye to her.

While the Coles are now busy raising Madeline’s three younger brothers, the exhibition showcases one of the ways Stephanie still devotes her life to her stillborn daughter.

Over the past few years, Cole has become a public face of grieving parents, both as an artist and advocate for families who have suffered infant loss, but she admits there’s a nerve-wracking aspect to opening five. It puts on display half a decade’s worth of incredibly personal pain and growth.

“I do get some butterflies in my stomach when I think about the non-family, non-bereaved people in my life viewing the work,” she said. “It is so honest and raw that I often feel a little exposed when people look at it.”

She knows the art can’t get across to strangers all the feelings of a bereaved parent, but it’s a way to open a conversation when it comes to a topic that’s often kept quiet.

For the other mothers and fathers who have lost children, five. is simply a way of displaying the bond that’s already there. There’s an array of emotions in Cole’s own work, and even more from the other parents who have submitted work for the exhibition.

Included are the paintings of Kara L.C. Jones’ “1,000 Faces of Grief Project,” books and essays, the colorful, modern illustrative impressionism of Elm Miller Timms, and the photography of Carly Marie Dudley, who spends many evenings writing the names of stillborn children in the sands of Mullaloo Point Beach in western Australia and photographing the shore as the sun sets. Among the seven poets reading their work at a Jan. 15 artist reception will be Reamstown area resident Ralyssa Ensinger, presenting “Double Stroller.” The reception will also feature appearances by 15 artists and writers in the exhibit and live music by Bill Bayly, a bereaved parent.

Donations to the Sweet Pea Project, Cole’s group that was started to support families, will be accepted but the event, scheduled from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., is free to the public.

The exhibition opens on Mulberry’s monthly First Friday, when the studio is open from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. For more information visit

Among Cole’s work will be “My Mangled Heart,” (pictured on the front page) her first after her pregnancy. At the time, she felt destructive. After smashing a few dishes, her grief counselor advised her to buy some cheap clay pots and release her anger on them. Her husband cleaned up the first few rounds, then one time she picked up the pieces and saw that they should have held a flower. The broken scraps reminded Cole of her own life, and she sculpted them into a heart.

Cole had gone to school for fine art and was an elementary art enrichment teacher, so “My Mangled Heart,” didn’t just spring up from nowhere. But when Cole began creating art again, she didn’t go through the same process of sketching an idea, painting it then touching it up.

Maybe, as far as technique goes, the pieces weren’t the best she could do. But the art dedicated to Madeline was something new.

“Before I was painting because I wanted to create a painting,” Cole said. “After Madeline's death, I was painting because I didn’t know what else to do with my hands, my mind, my emotions. It no longer had anything to do with the end result, the finished piece, it was all about the act of painting, the release that only creative expression was able to provide me.”

Although “My Mangled Heart” is aesthetically beautiful, it took several months for Cole to create art that started to take a positive view of life. In the spring of 2007, she painted a simple green piece of a herself, still pregnant, with the words, “I held you every second of your life.” “For Madeline” has become her favorite piece.

“All that Madeline ever knew was love and warmth and the beating of my heart,” Cole said. “Every second of her life was good. It is not enough, but it is something. And realizing that was huge for me.”

Cole credits her grief counselor with helping her to realize that “For Madeline” was a painting of healing. Now, it’s easier to see the growth toward “For Madeline at 5” (pictured below.) The hollowness of the first few paintings was beginning to be filled.

As she was working on the layout for five., Cole happened to set the recent painting for her daughter next to “Empty,” (pictured at left.)

“The angry red streaks, the permanent, heavy blacks, the gaping hole in the womb, it is very obviously from a place of ultimate despair,” she said. “And so to see that next to For Madeline at 5, which is a meditation on the connection that I still feel to my daughter even without her in my arms, is a really powerful statement on the advances I have made in learning how to live comfortably with grief.”

But there’s one part of her grief that the art hasn’t yet touched. One idea that carries too much weight to move from her heart onto canvas. Stephanie’s father, John, died in 2004. Although he was a talented artist and musician, Stephanie never tapped into her own creative side in dealing with his loss. Nearly a year and a half later, she was ready to give the name life again by naming her daughter Madeline Jonna Cole.

“And then she died. In the same hospital where my dad had died. On his 50th birthday. I haven’t found a way to tackle that one artistically yet, but I think it would be very cathartic if I ever figure out how.”

My Mangled Heart by Stephanie Paige Cole
 Empty. by Stephanie Paige Cole
 For Madeline at Five by Stephanie Paige Cole
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