Thursday, September 29, 2011
Fingerprints, nature’s epidermal signifiers, are often associated with caution-taped crime scenes and the worst kind of criminals. Sometimes, they form messy tracks on oft-used objects. At others, they determine the cause of a death and the fate of a life with conviction.
For Salinas native Kathryn Albers, they represent something more. That something started after she retired from a fast-paced career as a network engineer in San Jose, relocated to Monterey County and started a family, which inspired a spot of artistic expression with baby-handprint ceramics.
“When I had kids, everything changed,” she says. “Your heart just goes.”
New mothers took notice of her creations, and calls started coming in for special requests, like fingerprints and jewelry pieces. She started Imprint on My Heart for those joyful parents, but one request – a mother losing her 14-year-old daughter to brain cancer – led Albers to found Memory in My Heart, a sister company that honors the dying or deceased.
“[The lines] were customer-driven,” she says. “Making sure the customers are happy is the most important to me. These are not pieces of jewelry. These are memorials, keepsakes… it’s very personal to me that I get it right.”
Get it right she has, apparently. Imprint on my Heart has already been featured in Parenting and Oprah magazines, and Albers receives orders from around the world. Entirely self-taught, she creates her pieces, which run anywhere from $150 to several thousand, out of a studio in Carmel where ink imprints are scanned into a computer, digitally photographed, then cast in the gold or silver designs. Her method, which she keeps strictly secret, takes several weeks.
Mold impression materials are also sent off for pet paws and snouts, and ink-less print kits are available for the deceased (embalmed prints are no good with ink).
“[The keepsakes] span the gamut of life, from celebrating the birth of a child all the way to memorializing the deceased,” Albers says.
In addition to fingerprints, customers can supply just about anything to memorialize – handwriting, ashes, footprints, and pet pawprints – with which Albers can design just about any trinket imaginable. Whether a necklace with a newborn’s footprint, a bracelet with a grandchild’s inscribed message, or earrings of a grandmother’s thumbprint, the combinations and options encourage the unique, individualized meaning that inspired the company.
“Because it is so personal, it means more to me than it could possibly mean to anyone else,” says one of her customers, Jennie Conway-Shwaiko, who purchased an infinity charm of her daughter’s fingerprint. “It is classic: You can buy something for a grandparent, and it can be handed down from one generation to the next.”
The fingerprint imprints are no larger than a penny. Set into a heart or teardrop, the piece takes on added history, sentimentality and meaning intended by its wearer. At her studio, Albers opens up a large box filled with pendants, earrings, rings and bands in gold and silver, with the tiny etches and ridges of an arch, a whorl, or a loop of a print. In theory, the design may sound unusual, even creepy. But the finished products look more like crafted jewelry than crime lab samples.
“People are skittish but once they get the piece they are excited,” Albers says.
The fingerprinting itself can be fun, too. Christine Reimann took the fingerprints of her grandchildren, then 1, 3, and 5 years old, for a necklace pendant. A kit arrives with an ink palette and special plastic-protected paper for collection. Send those messy collections off and weeks later, a professional, engraved recreation will arrive.
“Kathryn has a really good process,” she says. “My grandchildren were so young, but I was able to get three good fingerprints from each of my girls.”
As for the less fun – and sometimes heartbreaking – requests, Albers channels as much care and attention as possible.
“You learn to listen,” she says, “to let them talk. Everyone is touched by death at some point. As a society we don’t really talk about it. [The jewelry] allows me to help the grieving process.”
In the process, Albers has left her own imprint on hundreds of lives. “I never would have imagined that this is what I would be doing,” she says, “but it is extremely rewarding, to make an unhappy situation a little bit better.”
For more information, call 888-515-8324 or visit www.ImprintOnMyHeart.com.