“How do you top a bra made out a thousand paper cranes you and your children folded for months?” That was a question that kept coming back to Lauren Ward, who has participated in four previous Art Bra Austin events in support of the Breast Cancer Resource Center.
For the annual event, women who have or have had breast cancer model bras that are the canvas for amazing artwork made by local artists, and sometimes the models themselves. The bras are auctioned to support the Breast Cancer Resource Center, which helps support women diagnosed with breast cancer.
“It was really empowering,” she says of walking the runway last year. “It was a wonderful moment. It felt like a culmination of all the work. There was this overwhelming wave of love. Everybody was clapping and standing. It was a remarkable feeling of winning. It was like when your kids are born. It’s one of these moments you’ll never forget.”
Even though Ward had 25 friends and family members cheering for her, the exciting thing for Ward was that her piece was bought by a stranger. Someone said, “This is a piece of art, I want it,” Ward says of the experience. “It’s one of the first times I absolutely felt like an artist.” Before she called herself “crafter on the side, soccer mom by day.”
She had upped the ante. “What can I do that somebody is going to want to buy for a lot of money?” she thought.
She had seen a piece that had large plastic pieces that looked like dragon scales. It looked like guitar picks. Guitar picks, “that would be so fun. We’re here in Austin,” she says. She shared the idea of using guitar picks as a medium for a bra with a friend, and her friend suggested that she ask local musicians for them. In October, Ward posted something on Facebook. She really didn’t know what she was doing, but people shared her posts and tweeted about it.
By Thanksgiving, she was starting to receive envelopes. Melissa Etheridge, a fellow breast cancer survivor, sent a bunch of picks. Willie Nelson sent three. Pat Green sent three as well, with a note: “For your dress.” Sara Hickman sent CDs and a pile of picks. Ace Frehley from Kiss sent picks, as did Jack White, Chris Daugherty, Brian Setzer and Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top.
In all, more than 150 artists from 10 different states and four different countries sent their guitar picks. The oldest donor was Nelson; the youngest was an 8-year-old from her children’s school.
“It’s the power of people wanting to help each other,” Ward says.
The picks presented an interesting puzzle. They were all different colors. “I didn’t realize when I started the variety of pick,” she says.
She tried to plan around color, but picks came in as she was working. Nelson’s were bright green, Hickman’s were yellow. To attach them to the corset, she drilled a hole in the pick and used a metal necklace loop to connect the pick to the corset. She put ones from notable artists on a separate piece that could be a necklace or worn on her shoulder. She also created a shirt with a panel on the front that is filled with picks.
In addition to the provided picks, Ward filled in the pieces by creating new picks out of an inexpensive black trash can.
Ward, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, says she is very thankful to be able to be active again and have this outlet for her creativity.
“I never thought when I was in the middle of chemo that I could play tennis for 2½ hours again,” she says. “To be able to do that, it’s just a gift.”
It’s also changed the way she lives her life and the way her family members live their lives. On Mother’s Day, when her husband had to fly out of town, she didn’t sweat it. “We can do this,” she says. “We make it all work.”