A gathering of angels glimpsed in Columbia

December 09, 1992|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Staff Writer

The tiny woman with the heavenly smile brought her angels to Vantage House.

Willadene Price displayed about 50 of her precious angel figurines Wednesday in the auditorium of the Vantage House retirement community in Columbia.

About 150 residents and guests joined in this "gathering of angels," as Vantage House marketing officials billed it.

Each resident, of course, was an angel. And so was Mrs. Price, a gentle, warm and friendly woman who says she acquired her first angel on a plate, a plaque or an inkwell -- she can't remember which -- 45 years ago.

She says simply that she is fascinated by them. At first she was interested in them as art, she says, and later in their spiritual nature.

"What is an angel?" she says. "I found out that that was one of the fun things about studying angels.

"You can read all you want and make up your own mind. What is an angel? Who knows?"

Mrs. Price, who seems to have a pretty good idea, is 78 and lives in Alexandria, Va., with her husband Jack, a retired Army colonel. They have been married 54 years. While he was stationed in Paris after World War II, his wife took a special interest in the painted and sculptured angels of the great cathedrals of Europe.

She began buying a few pieces of angel art -- plates, plaques, figurines.

"But I was not collecting angels," she says. "There's a big difference in being a collector and an accumulator."

And she wrote biographies of two sculptors who created beautiful statues of angels, among other things: Auguste

Bartholdi, who created the Statue of Liberty, and Gutzon Borglum, who sculpted the faces of Mount Rushmore.

By 1976 Mrs. Price had accumulated maybe 20 angels. That year she was invited to a meeting of the Angel Collectors' Club of America.

The home in Alexandria where the meeting took place had angels everywhere, Mrs. Price says. She figured she'd better get busy expanding her collection.

But even today she has a modest one, by collectors' standards. She has several hundred angels, she says. She knows a `D collector who has 10,000.

She also began reading about angels.

"I didn't know about the hierarchy of angels," she says, "or that there were six-winged angels. I discovered there are even angelologists who all have different views on the subject."

Mrs. Price is coy when asked about her view.

"There seems to be something in the air about angels," she says. "Many books are coming out now about experiences people have had with angels.

"Some writers have said every church has a guardian angel. Every child at birth is given a guardian angel. There is even an angel to tell every blade of grass to grow."

Mrs. Price ponders the idea.

"Maybe we do have guardian angels," she says.

She spoke about this spiritual aspect briefly at Vantage House. She talked mainly about her figurines from all over the world, including what she believes is her oldest, a small clay angel from a church in Austria. But she won't venture a guess at its age.

After her talk residents lined up to look at her angels displayed on tables. Then everyone filed into the lobby for snacks, including, of course, angel food cake.

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