Business ideas come from many places and in many forms. And every once in a while, someone comes up with an idea that takes us by surprise and then...aha, of course! That was the case for Vangie Collins, owner of VC Lampwork Memorial Glass Beads, who makes cremation jewelry.
Collins, a native New Yorker, has always considered herself a crafty person, traveling to craft fairs and making jewelry, including necklaces and earrings "for fun," she recalled recently.
She earned her psychology degree from SUNY Plattsburg and was working as a pretrial services officer for the federal government when she attended a craft fair in Nashua, N.H. in 2007.
"It was a bead show," she said, "and they were selling lampwork beads. I loved them!"
Lampwork uses a torch or lamp to melt the glass, as opposed to traditional glassblowing which uses a furnace. Lampwork beads are formed with tools and hand movements to make colorful and intricate designs.
Collins started buying beads in every color. "I would pick out my outfit for work based on the beads I wanted to wear!" she said with a laugh. It didn't take long for her to decide she wanted to make the beads. She took lessons and her husband Jack joined her to see what equipment was involved. In short order she learned how to make the beads herself and Jack figured out how to set up a glass making studio in their home in New Hampshire.
As her technique improved and grew, Collins started selling her beads at craft shows. She sized the beads to be the right size to fit the popular Pandora charm bracelet and necklace chains. Collins began to build up a following of customers and in 2009 a woman approached her with a request. Could she put her beloved dog's ashes in a bead?
Collins was taken aback. Her own dog Rudy had died not too long before and his remains had been cremated. Although those ashes were spread in her garden, a small cloth bag of ashes remained. A touch of ash was added to the molten glass, to test the concept. "I made a dozen beads from the last of Rudy's ashes," Collins said, "and the last one I made was perfect. Just a sprinkling of ash added to the beauty." She was subsequently asked to make cremation beads for several other dog owners.
In 2010 she was approached to make a bead with the ashes of a customer's mother. By now experienced in the technique, Collins was able to provide her with a bead in her mother's favorite color blue, flecked with tiny dots of ash that she describes as looking like "the galaxy," or the heavens.
"It was so beautiful and when I gave the daughter the bead she cried." Collins said. "It's a very emotional time," she stressed. "Some people are emotional, others are stoic."
Collins takes her work very seriously and she has a tremendous respect for all involved. "I am working with the remains of a life and It's a very powerful experience," she stressed.
Collins likes to learn about the deceased and the family and depending on their wishes, different items can be made. A keychain, a suncatcher, a remembrance bead, and a rosary have all been chosen by family members to incorporate the ashes of their loved ones. A bride incorporated a bead with her grandmother's ashes into her bridal bouquet. "It is such a responsibility," she said. "They are trusting me with the ashes of their family member."
In 2014 Collins retired from her job as a pretrial services officer. She and her husband bought a vacation home in Chatham and Jack has set up a studio for her to work here as well. Recently she was asked to add sand to a glass bead, and she has added sand from Harding's Beach to a lampwork bead. "It was where they were married and very special to them," Collins said.
Collins, who has a presence on social media sites like Facebook and Etsy, has made cremation jewelry and other lampwork glass pieces for customers as far away as Canada and Alaska. Her website is www.vclampwork.com.
"I love what I do," she said. "Doing what one loves and knowing that it helps people through the grieving process is truly priceless."