Sunday, March 7, 2010

Artist to Artist: Franchesca Cox

Artist to Artist is a regular feature for still life 365. Through a dialogue about the creative process, grief, loss and art, the idea is to learn more about the art you see on still life 365 and the mother, father or family member creating it. In turn, we hope you learn more about your own art, creative process and grief. Artist to Artist a regular feature of this blog space (every second Sunday). If you have an artist that you would like to learn more about, or interview, please email me.

Franchesca Cox's firstborn daughter, Jenna Belle, passed away after 13 days of fighting for her life in the NICU. No diagnosis was ever confirmed, although a genetic disorder was suspected. It is Franchesca's hope that Jenna's short visit to our world will make a difference in someone else's life forever. Franchesca explores her grief and loss through different art forms including poetry, painting and graphic works for the babyloss community. She maintains a blog about her experience at Handprints from Heaven. She also helps bereaved families by creating a Hope Collage of their child's name.

Hello, Franchesca. Thank you for agreeing to talk to me about grief, creativity and art. Interestingly, when you first submitted to still life 365, you submitted a beautiful poem, but when I first saw your website Handprints from Heaven and then My Art Box, I was just so impressed at the amount of beautiful visual work you are also doing in Jenna's name. Words and paint. Computer and craft. Do you naturally gravitate more towards writing or art?

When I was really young, I loved loved to write. The older I got, the less I cared for it. I began to seek an interest in visual art. Jenna’s death resurfaced my love for writing. The first few days after she died, writing was more of a survival tool than anything. Now it is probably not my favorite medium, as I feel I can express myself beyond words in my paintings or any graphic/ visual art.

Your beautiful daughter Jenna was born last May and died thirteen days later. I am just so sorry. Beyond that loss, we suffer so many other losses when we lose our child. I was so intrigued by a quote in your biography, "I am managing to gain some ground through my artistic side, which I felt I lost when she died." Can you talk about how your artistic side helps you find grounding?

After the shock began to wear off, I started to seek out my natural inclination to painting and drawing, and eventually writing. My artistic brain found refuge in all these things as a means to stabilize my world that had been rocked to the core. It has now become my way of remembering my daughter. I am learning how to do new things like play around in graphic manipulation programs, collage and even garden. I believe that grief is a beautiful gift and it is healing for me to be able to express the colors that are born out of this journey.

Your projects for the babylost community are so amazing and touch so many people. Among them are the Hope Collage, the Memory Box, and your Small Bird Studio Blog Redesigns. I'm not sure which came first, but I remember seeing Hope Collages (Jenna Belle, shown at left) begin to pop up in blogs across our community. They are so touching and beautiful. Though they are simply words, they are very visual. Can you talk about what first inspired you to do these collages for other grieving parents? And also can you talk a bit about what goes into creating the collage? For example, how do you come up with the words for the collages?

My first inspiration for these hope collages was Carly from Names in the Sand. Soon after seeing her site, I began to notice other women giving back to this babyloss community in such diverse ways and I wanted desperately to do something. I prayed for God to give me something to give back through losing Jenna, and I believe He answered that prayer.

The collages are custom-made for each baby. The parents supply up to 13 words or phrases that remind them of their baby(ies) and they trust me to piece them all together in a word collage.

The memory boxes seem a natural offspring of the collage work. Did you have an inspiration for doing them?

Actually yes! Jill from Footprints on our Hearts lent me a book “The Christmas Box”. Around that time I was also participating in the 25 Days of Christmas Giveaways for babyloss mamas, hosted by Tina from Living Without Sophie and Ellie. It was almost my turn to host a giveaway and I was still unsure about my original giveaway idea. The night before I cracked open that book and read about the Christmas box, and I knew for certain what I would be doing. I managed to put a giveaway together for the first memory box, without any pictures; just an idea scrambled into words, as best as I could describe.

I noticed that on the fifth of every month, you give a blog makeover away. So generous of you. I worked as a liaison between a graphic designer and non-artists, and I have to say, it is quite challenging work. Since the websites redesigns are, I imagine, mostly for grieving bloggers, do you find it challenging to capture the heart of each unique loss and reconciling that with just practical graphic design? Do you interview the blogger about their child, or do they mostly come to you with an idea in place?

When I have done blog designs for babyloss mamas, I am very aware that their blog is more than just an online journal. It captures their heart, their deepest desires, their grief and the biggest thing that will probably ever happen to them. I do my best to help them reflect that in their designs. Everyone that I have worked with has been wonderful at communicating exactly what they wanted. Many times they have a symbol that reminds them of their babies, thus making it easier to produce a blog look that they will be happy with.

Beyond poetry, I also noticed an absolutely stunning painting you did on your blog My Art Box called Split Wide Open (shown at left). I felt that piece deep within me. I think anyone who has lost a child can relate to that image, which seems to be one that defines certainly our first year of grief. Do you explore your grief through oil and canvas often?

Not nearly as much as I would like to. I actually painted this piece way before Jenna was even born. It was a product of a different sort of grief in my life, and it voiced what my heart could not put into words. I look back now and find it strange that it still captures my grief perfectly. When I compare the two worlds of grief that I have now known, I’d give anything to live the rest of my life in that first world, the one I thought was intolerable at the time.

You talk a lot of your belief and religion in your work and on your blogs. Can you talk a bit about the way religion has played into your art?

This loss has put me face to face with death and a reality I never thought could happen to me. It also made me confront aspects of God that I never wanted to know personally. For a long time I harbored resentment toward God for what happened. That resentment and anger subsided and a new light began to shine on the amazing Love that can only be realized through unthinkable loss.

Throughout this journey more than anything, my faith has given me a perspective that keeps me sane. It gives me hope. And I have to believe that my greatest loss was and still is her greatest gain - Heaven.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me about your work. It has been a pleasure.


  1. What a wonderful interview! Franchesca has a beautiful heart and I love how she honors our babies in so many ways.

  2. I already thought Franchesca was so talented, & seeing that stunning painting made me think even more so. Wow. Makes me want to pick up my brushes again, and it's been a VERY long time. I also happen to LOVE my Hope Collage, it was my computer wallpaper for months. Thank you, Franchesca, for sharing all of that with us. The creativity and generosity of the BLMs out there is amazing!

  3. "And I have to believe that my greatest loss was and still is her greatest gain - Heaven."

    Wow Franchesca. That is beautiful. You are beautiful xxxx

  4. Thank you so much for sharing Franchesca! You are such a beautiful person!


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