Crosses by Catherine
Photo by Katie Turpen.
Several years ago, artist Catherine Partain was at the lowest point in her life. Her marriage was falling apart, and she found herself involved in an emotional affair.
Following her divorce, she desperately searched for an identity to make her feel whole again.
“I felt thrown away in every sense of the word,” Partain said. “I had completely given up on myself.”
In the fall of 2008, Partain said God prompted her to make a cross out of pieces of broken furniture. Soon after that, while on a walk, she and a friend came across the husk of a burned-down house. Immediately, Partain felt a surge of emotions. She took several of the burned timbers home with her, determined to make something beautiful and redeeming out of the wreckage.
Crosses welded from discarded scraps are now a powerful metaphor for Partain’s newfound hope in herself and her life.
“God has shown me that these scraps, no matter how ugly, bent, rusted or scarred, can be redeemed,” Partain said. “And so can we.”
Today, she works out of her classroom-turned-art studio at Artists on the Bluff in Hoover. She came to this unique community of artists after realizing they did not have a metal worker and discovered her gift could be an asset to the Hoover art scene.
Long windows form an entire wall of Partain’s studio, allowing sunlight to filter in over the dusty crosses that hang delicately in designated spots around the room. Metal scraps of all sizes and shapes carefully plucked from junkyards cover the floor.
And the art doesn’t stop at crosses. After Partain finishes welding, she gathers up the dust from the scrap metal and lets it rust onto wet paper to form intriguing, intricate designs.
“The scrap informs me,” Partain said. “If just one person is affected, that makes a difference.”
Thank you notes from recipients of Partain’s crosses cover nearly an entire wall, serving as testament to the number of lives her work has touched. Partain said those are just a few out of the hundreds she has received. She has made crosses for Manuel Cuevas, designer for stars Johnny Cash, Michael Jackson and Elvis and for the Hutton Hotel in Nashville.
Partain reflected on her willingness to share the personal journey that inspired her crosses on her website. It was far from an easy decision.
“We can’t empathize unless we’ve been through that experience. So I just decided to be transparent about my story,” Partain said. “When I finally pushed that publish button on mine, it felt like setting off an atomic bomb.”
Her decision turned out to be a crucial one, as now people who receive her crosses see her as more than just an artist but a close friend and confidant who understands whatever troubles they are going through in their lives.
“People keep bringing me their stories,” Partain said. “I’ve made over 1,000 crosses and it keeps on going. It’s been very liberating.”
Partain explained that welding a cross for someone is an intimate experience. When people request crosses, she often invites them to her studio to sit on the floor with her and sort through scraps, allowing them to select the broken pieces that best reflect their personal identities.
“No two crosses are the same.” Partain said.
Today, Partain is thriving in a community of creative artists at Artists on the Bluff and feels that she has been blessed with a gift to help people realize that what is broken can always be healed.
“A lot of us are silent about our stories. But people are yearning to make that connection, to develop relationships,” Partain said. “We need to learn to love people right where they are.”
For more about Partain and her art, visit crossesbycatherine.com.