Laurel Burch arrives in San Francisco
“Soon after I arrived, I began collecting magic elements from faraway places … beads from Egypt, coins from China, bone discs from Africa. Combined with beaten metal wire from the junkyard, I wove them, like stories into complex ornaments to wear under my clothes secretly, as personal amulets connecting my tribeless self to other worlds.”
“The beginning of my style emerged … found objects transformed into works of art hammered out on the back of a cast iron skillet. Secretive night trips to Chinatown were my favorite adventure and usually my biggest score. On the unpeopled streets after midnight, cats prowled and howled around the stacks of refuse from the day’s delivery of ducks, fish, fruits and vegetables, and numerous other exotic things imported from China.”
“I raised my daughter Aarin on earrings I sold for $4.00 a pair in the Haight Ashbury. Each pair of my earrings sold at a street fair was a bridge to a kindred spirit. After my son Jay was born, I was entrenched in trying to take care of my children when I had no skills, trying to sell my jewelry on the streets, and trying to pay for my hospital bills when I wasn't able to walk. I never felt connected to this colorful wave of San Francisco wayfarers and locals, and as though invisible, I wandered among them. Those days were both heavy and innocent at once, and I remember other lost souls beginning to gather around in their tie-dyes and weird digs for Janis Joplin concerts in Golden Gate Park.”
“My clothes were made from the Mexican shawls and Indian bedspreads I bought and sometimes stole from an import store on Fisherman’s Wharf. My children’s attire was made from the same, embellished with Chinese embroidery or Indian Molas. When rent was due –$180 for a 2-bedroom apartment at the top of 130 outdoor stairs – my welfare check of $171 each month was supplemented by earrings and necklace sales. We lived from hand to mouth, sleeping on second- or third-hand mattresses on the floor and I pretended they were temple futons."
"The reality was that it was a very bittersweet time yet I began to realize that any hardships caused by my disease or otherwise in my life were a very distant second to the joy I could choose to experience in the world. In particular, my disease serves only as a contrast to my ‘real world,’ a world that's colorful and positive and inspirational and beautiful and uplifting."