Symbols of Love and Hope

When Adria de Haume was 10 years old, she’d often slip out the door of her Detroit home and ride her bicycle to a place she cherished, a place where few would ever expect to find the daughter of two Jewish parents. When she’d arrive, the Detroit Gesu Catholic Church was usually quiet, a sanctuary where de Haume could be alone and assign meanings to the objects she cherished. Her favorite was the cross. To this curious girl, it was a symbol of love and hope.

Many years later, in 1982, de Haume, who had spent much of her professional life in the fashion industry, created her first cross. Her friend Nellie May Cox, a Baptist minister, had become ill and was suddenly hospitalized. Things did not look good. Cox was allowed no visitors, no flowers. In a desperate attempt to help, de Haume fashioned a small cross out of two mixing sticks, painting them with vibrant colors and tying the center with red silk. Since Cox was being treated at Catholic hospital, a nurse agreed to place it on the wall across from where she slept.

After Nellie May Cox recovered, she contacted de Haume and told her that glimpsing the cross gave her the sign she needed to live. Ever since then, Adria de Haume has been making crosses of all kinds. Many have even been exhibited in galleries and museums.

Cataloging de Haume’s work was the idea of her old art history professor at University of Michigan, Diane Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick and de Haume frequently kept in touch after college. She’d often come to New York to see de Haume’s latest pieces. “When Diane said she wanted to write [my] book,” says de Haume, “I didn’t have a catalog of my crosses or pictures and I had to borrow them back [from collectors] just to assemble an archive to give her. It was so much work. I didn’t realize what this entailed, but she was so adamant that the book be done.”

The book, Cross Purpose (Assouline), featuring large images of her works and essays by art historians, was published earlier this fall. It is dedicated to her son, Will.

Once Cross Purpose hit stores, de Haume felt terribly vulnerable. “It was a really big step for me to let this book come out because it is so personal and dear to my heart.” But releasing the book, which reveals much about her life and work as an artist and jewelry designer, was a chance to push those feelings of doubt and fear away. “We have to heal the world,” she tells me. “We have to make it a better place. If my book does anything I pray that it will help people feel that’s there’s a higher good and a bigger picture. Whether it helps them through humor or it helps them through playfulness and joy, then it will have been worth everything.”

To the passive observer, her goals may sound ambitious, unattainable even. Maybe nothing, no matter the efforts, can be done to fight all the horrid wrongs in the world. And maybe it was rest and medicine that helped her dear friend Nellie May Cox recover back in 1982. But that kind of thinking would only warrant one more victory for logic, one more victory for those of us who never really tried.