Laurel Burch, Artist of Cool and Colorful Designs

silhouette of black catHow many of you remember Laurel Burch? Her folk-art designs and amazing use of vivid colors were signatures of her work. Though Laurel died in Novato, California at the too-young age of 61, her work is still being produced and sold in many places. Her art will bring her immortality.

Laurel’s Early Years

Picture of artist, Laurel Burch

Laurel Burch

Laurel Anne Harte was born on New Year’s Eve, 1945, in the San Fernando valley of California. Later, Laurel’s parents divorced, and Laurel and her sister lived with her mother.

At age 14, Laurel struck out on her own with no more than a paper bag of clothes.  She was already battling the disease that she was born with and that would be her nemesis, osteopetrosis.  As a result of this rare and painful bone disease, she had more than 100 bone fractures during her life.

Cooking, cleaning, and babysitting for room and board, she began her search for a stable way to support her fragile body.  She had no job, no money and no dreams.  Then she reached the Golden Gate of San Francisco, and settled in.

Her search for connectedness was evident in the jewelry she made to wear herself.  She used old coins, bones, and beads, arranging them into necklaces and earrings. She said, “I found metal in a junkyard, and hammered it out on the back of an old frying pan.” When she wore her pieces, she felt a sense of belonging to a world of her own creation.

Starts her Own Business

People on the street began asking her where she got her jewelry, and thus a new business was born. The jewelry became a bridge to Laurel, leading to friendships and patrons.  In 1960, she launched her own business, “Laurel Burch Artworks.” She made her creations out of whatever was available.

Laurel was a self-taught painter, seeing herself as a folk artist who told stories.  She said, “In our fast-paced, changing world, we need symbols that are a reminder of the ongoing world of the spirit.” She also made dolls and sewn art, skills she had learned from her mother, who was a seamstress and designer.

The World Starts to Find Her

Red cat cloisonne earrings

Cloisonne Earrings

Soon, some of the local stores began stocking her creations. Samples of her work went to China, and in 1971, Laurel went herself, and discovered cloisonne, a kind of enamel work. Laurel designed paintings and had the designs made into earrings.

The business grew, with Laurel being the president and chief designer. In the 1990s she licensed her designs to several companies. These companies have allowed us to keep Laurel’s work alive, as they are still creating and making her art worldwide.

Laurel’s art always had an underlying theme of bringing different cultures together.  She believed in our connection with the earth and all living things, ideas that only increase in relevance today.

She was a very prolific artist, even when recovering from bouts with her disease.  During these times she was forced to paint from a wheelchair or while in bed, but kept on producing art.

Laurel said “I refuse to have anything in my life that I can’t turn around into something magical and beautiful.  I just refuse.” Her art will always convey a sense of lightness, passion, and joy.

Her figures display an inner strength, as they are formed with bold lines and graceful curves. Her colors explode into a joyful treat for the eye.  Her imagination was so fertile and uplifting, and every flower, animal, or dragonfly was transformed, until it became magical and beautiful.

Dealing With Her Disease

In spite of her ongoing illness, Laurel found time to perform hundreds of speaking engagements around the country.  As you can imagine, the subject of healing was always an important one to her.  “Being physically vulnerable is, in a lot of ways, a tremendous advantage in terms of human wisdom.  My bone disease was my gift,” she said. 

Laurel always gave freely to charitable causes, designing special art such as book covers, posters, and murals around issues that she held with special concern.

We Lost Her Far Too Soon

After two marriages that did not work out, Laurel married a third time to Rick Sara.  As they say, the third time is the charm.

On September 13, 2007, at age 61, Laurel died at her home in Novato, California. She was survived by her daughter, Aarin, her son, Jay, and two granddaughters, Soffiya and Karly.

I am so grateful that Laurel had the foresight to parcel out her lines of products to several companies, as it allows us to continue enjoying her work today.

Miscellaneous Additional Information

Colorful cat and dog with tails intertwined

Cat and dog friends

Although Laurel created many products with cat designs, she utilized several other subjects as well, including horses, dogs, and people. We are including just some of her cat designs on this site.

The items shown with this post are all sold on Amazon. Please note that, as I am an Amazon affiliate, I earn a small commission for qualifying sales.

Material for this article came from Everipedia, a branch of Wikipedia and from an article on the Laurel Burch official website, laurelburch.com.

Here is a small selection of Laurel’s art for your enjoyment. They all need good homes, so if you see something you particularly like, please click it and make your purchase on Amazon.

1.silk scarf Laurel Burch Designs

“Three Amigos” 100% silk scarf

Price: $22.00

 

 

 

2.silk scarf Laurel Burch Indigo Cats

100% silk scarf

Price: $27.39

 

 

3.  Laurel Burch Artistic Mug Collection                            

           blue mug, yellow interior, colorful cats

Rainbow Cat Cousins

14 ounce

Price:  $17.36

 

4.  Laurel Burch #117474black mug, blue interior, spotted black, white cats

Artistic Mug Collection

Polka Dot Gatos

14 ounce, multicolor

Price:  $15.00

 

5.  Laurel Burch Cosmetic Bagsmall colorful zippered bags with cats

3 in 1 cosmetic bag sets; 3 zippered bags

4 1/2 x 7 1/2; 5 x 9; 6 1/2 x 10

PRICE:  $25.65

 

6.  Laurel Burch ToteBlue and purple tote, cats on both sides

“Tres Gatos,” blue and gold

Zipper top

12 x 3 1/2 x 8 1/2

Price:  $26.34

 

7.  Laurel Burch #4315 2 spotted cats on bag; brown, black, and blue

“Spotted Cats”

Crossbody tote with zipper top

Price:  $21.02

 


8.  Laurel Burch Crossbody Handbag multiple cats, crossbody handbag

“Laura’s Garden”

A color bonanza

Size:  15″ x 10″

Price:  $38.23

 

 

9.  Laurel Burch Spoon Restblue spoon rest with cat face

“Feline Faces”

Blue and Purple

Price:  20.01

 

 

 

10.  Laurel Burch Tin Box Tin box, rainbow cats

(One box in picture is cardboard container for tin box)

Colorful cat design

Measurements:  6 3/4 x 2 5/8 x 1

Price:  $9.95

These are just a few of the many cool and colorful designs in Laurel’s collection.  I’d love it if you found one or two pieces you couldn’t live without. Just click on the item or the name, highlighted in blue, and a link will take you directly to Amazon, so you can make your purchase. If you really like Laurel’s art, I will post another selection at a later date.


8 Responses to Laurel Burch, Artist of Cool and Colorful Designs

  1. Janis says:

    Very interesting article and I love the merchandise!

  2. Denise Van Der Pol says:

    Thank you Fran for sharing the story of Laurel Burch. Many, many people love her work but do not know of her life. What a talent.. So glad she was able to share her gift with us before her too early departure. I particularly enjoy your site and the pictures you share, they are so very endearing and just plain cute! Here’s a joke for you I recently laughed at; Dogs can’t do an MRI, but Catscan! Working in the medical field I found this quite funny.
    Thanks for the beautiful merchandise by Laurel. The Three Amigos Silk Scarf is lovely!

    • Fran Kelso says:

      Denise, so glad you liked the site, and found something you couldn’t do without. I love Laurel Burch — her designs are so rich and vivid. She left us ‘way too early, but she sure breathed a lot of life into her art while she was here. I wish I could put hundreds of her beautiful items on here, just so people could see them.

  3. Babsie Wagner says:

    Oh, I absolutely love Laurel Burch, and I’m so excited to see you’ve got a whole bunch of really awesome pieces advertised on your site.  You know, I didn’t know anything about her personal story before I came upon your website, I just knew of her artwork and have always loved it.  I didn’t know about her history, and I was fascinated to read about her life.  Wow.  That is great that you brought this great artist to life on your site.  Thanks for that!

    Babs

    • Fran Kelso says:

      Babs, I am so glad you found my site, because I would like more of Laurel’s admirers to know her sad story.  She gave so much joy to the world through her work that it is so unfortunate that we lost her.  At least her work is still available.  I will be putting more of it on the site later, as a lot of people are enjoying the post.  If you want to see something special in her  “cat line,” let me know, and I’ll see if I can find it for you.

  4. Mike Viray says:

    It’s always unfortunate when the world loses a gifted/talented person. I’ll admit that this is the first time I’ve heard of Laurel and seen her work, so thank you for the enlightenment. She certainly built up a legacy with her artwork and the world of art is better for her contributions for it.

    She may be gone physically but her life’s work is alive and well for the world to see. Thanks for the article!

    • Fran Kelso says:

      You are right…her art is her immortality.  The lady did some beautiful, colorful work, not just on the subject of cats, but on other subjects as well.  Her use of color and her original folk-style designs are inspirational, and I am glad we can still enjoy them.  

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