Melody Hill is a hero with a heart. She joined the United States Army as young woman, met her husband overseas (he’s British) and raised her children all while serving her country. After retirement, she had a second career as an English teacher in public schools here in the US. Now Melody uses her artistic skills and her passion for a cause to bring a spark of joy to the lives of soldiers and veterans who have dedicated segments of their lives to serve their country. I met Melody through our shared polymer clay interest and found that I really enjoyed the way she sinks her teeth into what’s important to her. Read about her Hearts4Heroes project and how empathy for others can be a very big part of your passion for your art. – Ginger
A few weeks ago, Ginger asked me if I would write an article about the clay hearts I make and distribute to soldiers and veterans. I told her I could, without really thinking about what it would entail. Every time I sat down to write; I started a lot of self-talk. “What does she want me to write about? Why I do it, how I do it, how I got started, WHAT? Come on, you taught writing for 14 years, of course you can do this!” What I didn’t think about was what did I want to write? I think any creative endeavor is the same way. In polymer clay we often worry about what other people will like; will they like my color choice; my finishing, my design, will they pay for it, etc. And sometimes in this process we forget to find our own voice.
How does that relate to making clay hearts? In 2006 I was reading messages in one of my clay groups when I ran across a post about making Hearts4Heroes for soldiers (includes all military) to thank them for their service. It sounded interesting to me, so I contacted the people in charge, and I learned that this was a grass roots movement started by a woman who wanted some way to thank these people for their sacrifices. Especially Viet Nam veterans who had never been thanked for their service, and had, in fact, been vilified for it.
I received directions for the hearts and started making them from canes. I sent them off to one woman who consolidated all the requests and sent them off. At first, people were requesting one or two hearts to send to sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters. As word spread, people began requesting larger quantities for soldier’s and Veteran’s events. No one was ever asked to pay for these hearts and eventually it became too expensive.
Although we eventually closed the website, I continued to make hearts. I take them to the VA clinics and hospitals. I carry them around with me in my purse so that I can give them out to people I run into. I can’t explain the feeling I get when I place one of these hearts in the hand of a person who has never been thanked for their service. Tears are usually shed. So, how does that relate to “voice?”
In making these small works of art, I have found my voice (or at least one of them.) I get to try new techniques: surface treatments, canes, inclusions, and any thing else that occurs to me. As I make each heart, I think about the people who will receive them. It provides me with a connection to the military that I have missed since retiring from the Army in 1994. I have made 35,000+ hearts in the last 14 years and never once have I gotten bored. I am inspired by the work I see posted online and the classes I take. I am also inspired by the generosity of the clay community. Many have donated scrap clay, which is what most of my hearts are made of.
I often make the comment that I don’t know what I am making until the clay tells me what it wants to be. So, listen to your voice, find your passion, and most of all, have fun.