Written by Haley Schvaneveldt
Photographed by Lindsay Higgins
“I love doilies so much!” Haylee exclaims, enthusiastically describing her cabinet full of almost thirty doilies, including several made by her great-grandmother. She rests her hand on pictures of lace circles that are taped to the pages of her inspiration journal and explains: “There’s this delicacy about them. But when you combine them with ceramics they are more durable.”
Haylee is a junior from Lambertville, Michigan, majoring in ceramics, and minoring in business. She hopes to one day combine her skills in business and art by owning her own studio and selling her art in a city like Greenville or Asheville. Haylee lifts her wrist to show me a tattoo in the shape of a bird’s footprint. This symbol represents Camp Bold Eagle, a camp that caters specifically to children with hemophilia and other blood disorders. Haylee has a genetic disorder called Noonan Syndrome and has been attending Camp Bold Eagle as camper and counsellor for ten summers. She hopes that this year will be her second as the camp’s Arts and Crafts Director. One reason she is passionate about this camp, she says, is that “a lot of the kids that grow up with these disorders don’t have family members with the same issue. The camp gives you a second family.”
Haylee is used to explaining Noonan Syndrome, and she recites by heart the parts of her body affected: “heart, lungs, brain, bones, and blood.” But her tone changes when she discusses these same organs in relation to her art. “I’m really interested in how nature reflects the human body,” she says. “There are so many intricate details that I just find amazing. A tree in winter looks like the interior of your lung. And a bone cell underneath a microscope looks like tree bark.” If it weren’t for Haylee’s health issues and her resulting ever-growing knowledge of the human body, she might never have noticed these parallels. She sees these patterns and intricacies as a reason to praise God as Creator.
Haylee draws inspiration from ceramicist Sunshine Cobb; “I fell in love with her work because it’s super rustic and not polished.” Haylee’s love for everything natural is also what attracted her to doilies “they don’t look like flowers, but they feel organic.” In fact, the very process of making ceramics is organic. “You can’t go in with an idea of what you want it to look like at the end,” she says, “You have to be open to changes.” However, Haylee also loves creating conceptual art. For a class last semester, she created a huge sculpture entirely out of pill bottles. For Haylee, this sculpture represents her strength and her ability to grapple with big issues such as physical and mental health.
One of Haylee’s greatest challenges as an artist has been the temptation to compare herself with other artists. “With my health issues,” Haylee says, “I can’t do everything. But at the same time, I can’t let them hold me back. I have to find a balance.” Recently, Haylee has been reading the Psalms and listening to worship music while she is in the studio. The result, she says, is a sense of peace and confidence about her work. “I don’t question if I’m supposed to be there,” she says. At first, Haylee tells me, art was “the safe option,” because sports were too dangerous for her as a child. But now she recognizes the value of fragility. In art and in life, Haylee is learning to join what is intricate and delicate with what is durable and strong.