Glass Angels Watch Over Cancer Patients

November 21, 1990|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

They've been playing with the angels for weeks now in Bobbie Burnett's basement.

Dozens of volunteers -- engineers, retired women, teen-agers from a local church -- have been cutting bits of colored glass, fitting translucent wings and silvery halos on stained-glass angels, washing off the acid used before soldering, then fitting their fragile artwork into white boxes.

Profits from the $30 cherubs go for cancer research at the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center in Baltimore and the Anne Arundel Medical Center. In the last decade, The Caring Collection has brought in more than $55,000 for medical equipment and for cancer research and treatment.

Artist Burnett, a sprightly blonde who would make a nice angel herself, made the first stained-glass angel eight years ago for a friend dying of cancer. She ended up making several angels to help the woman pay her hospital bills.

Other friends saw the ethereal glass creations and asked for replicas.

Volunteers offered to help make the angels, and the group, based in Burnett's Annapolis home, "ended up shipping 4,000 angels all over world," Burnett says.

"God closes a door and opens a window, they say," she says, "but I didn't know all those angels would fly in!"

Burnett gestures around the room, to the dozens of finished three-dimensional angels, stately in pink, white and blue, to dozens more in various stages of assembly around the room -- and to as many volunteers, the "other angels," she calls them.

At a long table, Peg Leigh, 72, solders halos for the nearly 8-inch-high figures. "See how holy I am," she says teasingly.

Leigh joined the volunteer team two years ago when her husband died of cancer. "It's good therapy, and it's fun. And we're doing something to help those who have cancer," she says.

The group has bought IBM computers for the Hopkins oncology center, and last year they purchased a piece of equipment for lung cancer patients at Anne Arundel Medical Center.

Burnett, an art teacher and stained-glass artist, says she couldn't do it without the volunteers, whom she calls "those wonderful people who show up at 5 a.m. to solder wings and halos."

Nearly 40 people helped to get ready for a reception Sunday, during which $8,000 worth of angels were sold. The helpers range from Helen Barbano, who is retired, to teen-agers from St. Mary's School in Annapolis, to Jerry Klinken, a systems analyst with the state comptroller's department.

Klinken met Burnett two years ago when he took her art class at Anne Arundel Community College. He learned to make stained-glass doors for his kitchen, and he also started helping out with Burnett's charity projects.

When the "big angel project" came up, Klinken says, he became the one putting on the wings in a large assembly line. "Working with your hands makes you concentrate; it clears the mind of everything else," Klinken says.

He praises his former teacher for the work she puts into The Caring Collection. "It reflects the quality of her teaching and her person that she gets this many volunteers," he says. "You couldn't have it without the volunteers, but she's the driving force."

It all started when she and her husband Jerry were living on the boat at the Annapolis City Dock. Housework was minimal, so Burnett looked for something else to do. A former school art teacher took a class in stained-glass work and immediately was hooked. Friends requested work for their homes, and before she knew it, a decade had passed and she was presenting exhibits in Washington and Paris.

Her work includes the Chesapeake Collection of Eastern Shore birds and sailboats, and the Annapolis Collection, with 18 scenes of famous buildings, such as the State House and Middleton's Tavern.

Along the way, she and the volunteers started making the angels, then roses and also a collection of colorful Suncatchers, or $10 flowers and birds, including butterflies, cardinals and loons.

"We call the work The Caring Collection because these volunteers are people who care about other people," Burnett says.

Each gift comes boxed with an enclosed card explaining its charitable purpose.

"Sometimes customers will write checks to The Angel Lady, but the bank still takes them," says Burnett, chuckling.

Her brown eyes light up. "We're just a collection of people. We're not that organized. But it's the caring that counts. One of the volunteers passed away last week. But she's been here, doing good things for us."

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