A Belated Valentine

I suspect it has been better than 10 years ago that Rob bought a small collection of oversized kraft paper mache cherubs that had been used for display at a holiday vendor showroom, and had them shipped to the shop. He asked me if I was interested. Yes I was. The purchase cost was nothing. The shipping was something else, as I recall. I was delighted with them. We hung them from the ceiling with fish line, and attached lighted holiday garlands to their hands. The flying cherubs elicited plenty of comments. In subsequent years, I white washed that kraft paper. We sold a few.  Rob loaned some to a restaurant he liked for Valentine’s Day. Six months later, we got them back. The years went by, like they always do.

Then the story of their history gets blurry. The last photo I can find of them hanging in the holiday airspace at Detroit Garden Works is 2012. Is it possible they have been in storage for 6 years?  In January, Karen brought the last 3 remaining cherubs down from the roof of our tool room. She was charged with organizing and repacking all of the boxed holiday items for the winter. We store all of our holiday items on that roof. The three remaining paper mache cherubs were stashed in the far back of that space in plastic bags. Karen took them down, and brought them to my office. What would I like to do with them??

I was astonished and more than a little distressed to find that the putti had come on hard times. Feet and hands were completely detached, wings were askew-some sections had big dents. One cherub had broken upper arms.  I have no idea how this happened. Frankly, I don’t want to know, as I have this inexplicable fondness for them. What is the attraction? They have typically chubby baby boy figures, and astonishing swirling donut like hairdos. The hands and feet are webbed. Their tummies are substantial. Their only garment is ill fitting, and not very stylish. But they have benign and charming faces. And they have wings-what gardener doesn’t fall for a winged creature?

Cherubs have been the subject of countless garden ornament sculptures for centuries. Some represent love, even amorous love. Some depictions are mischievous and Puckish. Some cherubs are reminiscent of children, and innocence. Others bring angels to mind. It is not my intent to write about the origin and history of putti, cherubs and angels in garden ornament. A February project to my mind is less about study and scholarship and more about diversion.  My paper mache babies were in disrepair, and needed to be put back together.  I used fabric and hot melt glue to to reattach the hands and feet. I filled the dented elbows and tummies with light weight spackle.

Suffice it to say that my repairs were not museum quality. The repair joints were lumpy and clumsy – painfully obvious. More obvious was a need for me to cover my repairs with a decorative element that would disguise my inept repairs.  Left over from the holiday season were a number of bunches of dried integrifolia. A California supplier provides dry bunches of branches from this tree. The leaves cling tightly to the branches, even outdoors, exposed to our winter weather. The juvenile foliage is toothed and sharp.  The mature leaves are smooth and quite strong. The stems last a a very long time in their dried state.

I spent a number of hours stripping integrifolia leaves from their branches, and sorting them by size and shape. Some leaves dry flat.  Others dry with an up curve. Others curve down. Applying those leaves over my amateurish repairs would add another dimension to the surface of my cherubs. Now was the perfect time to take this project on, as I had both the time and inclination.

Buried in a box in the office were a number of packets of single mulberry paper flowers. I bought them years ago, with no particular use in mind.  I just liked them.  At last, a place to use them. These paper flowers were perfect for covering the cut ends of those integrifolia leaves. The renovation of the cherubs took on a life of its own. How I have enjoyed reinventing these paper mache sculptures. Pictured above, cherub 1.

From the beginning, I had the idea that I would ask Wayne to spray paint these cherubs all one color, once I was done. Now I am not so sure that they wouldn’t be just fine in their present green and white state. I have time to think about the final finish. Cherub 1 got a full head of integrifolia hair.

I did run out of mulberry paper flowers, so a search on line took me to a company who sells many versions of them. The daisy type flowers are more appealing to me than the roses. They arrived in bunches, each flower attached to a short length of paper covered wire. I glued through my first order of 400, and my reorder arrived in no time. Should you be interested:    mulberry paper flowers

The arrival of the polar vortex in Michigan was a sure sign to stay home. I can say that one of the deciding factors for my choosing landscape design and installation as a career was the idea that I could stay home in nasty winter weather. I took two cherubs, all of my materials and my glue gun home with me. I never ventured to work for seven days. I was busy, in a leisurely sort of way. I knew that viciously cold weather was out there, but I ignored it, but for taking the dogs outside.

I set up shop in my dining room. The peace and quiet meant I could concentrate. I recall a 20 minute period when I felt stir crazy, but that moment soon passed. Every inch of those cherubs got some attention. Cherub 2 got some integrifolia leaf eyebrows and eyelids, and some hot melt glue eyes. A mulberry leaf flower applied backwards improved the shape of the nose.

The cherubs needed  some elevation off the table surface in order for me to work on them. The integrifolia leaves are fairly tough, but dry foliage is brittle. A cardboard box kept the cherub aloft. More cardboard did a fine job of keeping hot melt glue off my dining room table.

A very good time was had by all.

hand detail

cherub 2

Cherub 2 aloft in my office. Rob gave me a hand drilling holes for screws, washers and toggle bolts. Given how they are finished, they will always need to be in the air.

cherub 3

I plan to keep them in the airspace for the foreseeable future. Part two of the project coming up next-you’ll see.


  1. Adorable. . . I love them! A creative genius working through cabin fever. Can’t wait to read about part 2.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Cathy, I love them too! I am not so sure about the creative genius part-I think its more like a perpetual state of ants in my pants! Ha. thanks, Deborah

  2. margaret atwell says

    I love this! Thank-you for sharing all the imagination that went into making them better. I do like the grey green leaves in rings and the head piece is beautiful. The whole post made me smile.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Margaret, they are making me smile too-not an easy task this time of year. Winter makes me very grumpy! best, Deborah

  3. Debra W. Lenzen says

    Amazing. So beautiful and creative way to repair them. Love them!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Debra, I had to cover my repair tracks-they were pretty bad looking. Hopefully the decoration part looks like decoration, and not like a bad repair! all the best, Deborah

  4. Nancy Edwards says

    What a fun project to keep you out of the cold! Your cherubs are delightful & looking forward to the next installment.❤️

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Nancy, I am not a big fan of too much snow, ice, sleet and gray. This kept my mind off the weather. thanks, Deborah

  5. Light weight spackle is just what I need to repair a paper mache cat, made by my mother, and in need of repair! A great project to get through a Syracuse winter, since it’s still too early to start seeds here! Love those cherubs!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear J, I think you will enjoy it. It is too eartly here for much of anything, except a longing for spring. best, Deborah

  6. Just in time for Mardi Gras! And so we find you are an artist in many media:)

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lisa, for sure I am a person with lots of energy. Being stuck inside with that could be bad without a project. best, Deborah

  7. Fun!

  8. “Holiday airspace” ☺️❤️

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Mary, holiday airspace indeed. Although one of my staff things they look spring like-with the green leaves. Hmmm… all the best, Deborah

  9. Margaret staib says

    Thank God for special projects like these that make us happy and keep us patient for spring blooms and smells. They are pretty darn special.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Margaret, a project like this helps to siphon off the ill effects of being stuck indoors too long. For that I am appreciative. best regards, Deborah

  10. Dear Deborah, thank you for this perfectly delightful, much needed, winter surprise story. I want to assure you, when your posts arrive, they can change a person’s whole outlook (and day) instilling new appreciation for all things outdoor and garden arts related. Not only is your creativity inspiring, but your writing is a source of equal pleasure to the objects and landscapes you create and share with us. You are the best reason to move to Detroit. I am a shameless fan.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Margaret, you have been reading a long time, and I appreciate that. Those that read keep me writing – thank you. About this time in the winter, I need a little harmless diversion. all the best, Deborah

  11. Just delightful!

  12. debra phillips says

    I look at problems and know that it stretches the mind towards creative outcomes one would never imagine. you did that in spades!
    beautifully inventive Deborah

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Debra, I always enjoy hearing from you.I just couldn’t bring myself to throw them away. I am glad I didn’t. all the best, DFeborah

  13. Very neat!

  14. Alicia Whitaker says

    They are just where they should be – in your gorgeous office! This makes me want to look for my abandoned cherubs – smaller but no less charming. Thanks Deborah,

  15. Yes, laughing out loud… but must confess that there is certain creepiness to their charm that comes with hanging them overhead (what happens at night when the lights go down?). intrigued by what your bookshelves contain – care to share?

    • I too, wonder what mischief and delightful magic they get up to in the middle of the night! Any evidence come morning?
      Thank you for sharing your inspired winter-bound restoration project with us.
      I’m with Kate above. Do tell us what you have on your prodigious bookshelves. Perhaps a subject of another post?
      Kate in snowy Boston

      • kate phelan says

        From: Kate in snowy New Hampshire
        To: Kate in snowy Boston
        appreciate your chiming in to encourage a book shelf reveal… always looking for new reads along with quality ‘coffee tablers’ that offer a good visual feast… helps get us through the March doldrums (aka ‘mud season’ around these parts).

        • Deborah Silver says

          Dear Kate and Kate, it was 2009 that I wrote about the books, so maybe it is time to write about them again. Thanks for the idea. best, Deborah

      • Deborah Silver says

        Dear Kate, as long as they are in the airspace in my office, I know no harm will come to them. Besides, looking at them does improve my winter mood. best, Deborah

    • Deborah Silver says

      Who knows what they are up to after hours! More on the books soon. all the best, Deborah

      • Dear Deborah and Kate in NH ,
        Yes, please the books!
        Pardon me if my imagination goes wild. I picture a cherub swooping in for a little winter reading. When no one is looking of course. Hmm. There is a story here.
        Sending gratitude and hugs for this flight of fancy reprieve from the 12 degrees in Boston!

        • Deborah Silver says

          Dear Kate, sorry for your 12 degrees. We have a balmy 23 right now-but temps above freezing are forecast for the weekend. I am ready for that! best, Deborah

  16. An excellent winter indoor project.

    Also educational. Had to break out the dictionary for putti and integrifolia.

    The integrifolia provides a fine finishing touch for the putti !

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jim, I only know banksia integrifolia as a dry material-it would never survive in the garden here.Ours is grown in California. Thanks for your letter. best, Deborah

  17. YOU SAVE THEM : ) I love the additional decorations! A good way to spend time and probably restful for your mind.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Laurin, it is very relaxing. Things will get busy soon enough. Even though our inters can be very hard and long, I like the change of the seasons. best regards, Deborah

  18. Necessity is the Mother of invention…what fun—just the creative task for cold winter days. Sometimes I make faux flower petal monogram banners for weddings. Bits and pieces make up a lot of art!
    Thanks for keeping in touch.
    See you in March when you reopen on my birthday, my favorite “gift.”

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jo, we are looking forward to the spring season too. But for now, the bits and pieces have my interest. See you soon! all the best, Deborah

  19. Michaele Anderson says

    I know that feeling when creativity comes a knockin’ and will not take “no” for an answer. I love playful and whimsical decorative touches whether they are indoors or outside. There is no more delightful smile that one elicited by the surprise of happy unexpected discovery.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Michaele, that urge to make something does come on occasionally. The state of those cherubs was all the push I needed. all the best, Deborah

  20. Joni Holland says

    It is so much fun to follow the evolution of a project when such a creative person is at the helm. Your projects never cease to delight but this one was particularly fun! Nice job!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Joni, good to hear from you.It was fun, at a not very fun time of our gardening year. Thank you, Deborah

  21. oh i love the salvage of the beloved cherubs! your dedication always has shown in your endeavors, but when i read “the first 400 flowers” and saw the single layering of the leaves, your true love for the cherubs came through!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear CC, yes, this all happened one leaf and flower at a time. Remember I spent a week at home during that nasty run of cold weather. It is true, I am quite fond of them. best, Deborah

  22. Sandy Boylston says

    Dear Cathy,

    I love your cherubs! Your imagination and creativity has raised them to new heights, excuse the pun. I think they are more beautiful than the originals. Can hardly wait to the next installment!
    Thank you for sharing, Sandy

  23. Beck Christine says

    What a great winter project and a blessing to be creatively inspired.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Christine, Detroit Garden Works has all kinds of materials laying about-that is a blessing in and of itself! best, Deborah

  24. Lisa at Greenbow says

    Nothing like cute little cherubs to get the ole creative juices flowing. They look like garden cherubs for sure now.

  25. Meya Kindred says


    I love the story of your cherubs, beginning to end. The fact that the cherubs went missing for a stretch, and then to have been in disrepair when found is a bit of a nostalgia heart tug. But to my eye your restoration/decoration process seems to have added a lighthearted cheerfulness that the monochromatic figures did not have. You seemed to have breathed a new and lighter life into the dolls just in time for all of us to the try to keep dreams of spring alive. I so love your posts! Meya

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Meya, I find I need a project once February arrives. It is a welcome distraction from the weather. best, Deborah

  26. Therese Connors says

    Love your story, love your writing style! Am an owner of small company that takes care of the elderly, but my heart is also in crafting. My dream is to have a holster for my glue gun! I, too, would be so happy to be crafting in the midst of the polar vortex, no problem there!
    It truly is relaxing and so good for the soul! Thanks!

  27. I will have to reread your post, Deborah, because I totally missed the cherubs.

    I was fully taken with reading about the history of your library evolution, decade by decade, then — at your recommendation — simply dropped everything and ordered The Thoughtful Gardener. If you think it is that great after reading every single book on your shelves, I’m in!

    I am now just dropping you a line to say you or designer readers might find value in Landscape Architect Walter Cudnohufsky’s new book, CULTIVATING THE DESIGNER’s MIND, coming out this weekend. I haven’t seen it yet, but have taken courses from him and found him to be very generous in sharing the essence of his approach to design work. The details beyond the mechanics of making bubble diagrams or construction details– those that are under the category “wisdom and experience” — are often left to the novice designer to figure out: how to shut out what is distracting while doing a site analysis, what part of a design to attack first, thoughts on the art of communicating with a client, and so much more. Those of us who have attended his peripatetic 5 sites in a day workshops save (or pass around to those who have misplaced!) his handouts for their enduringly useful reminders and insights. Having said all this, I have not yet seen the table of contents. I am guessing he is self publishing — Berkshire Botanical Garden in West Stockbridge MA or his own firm are the sources for purchase. A link to a regional news story below — note his Michigan roots!
    https://www.recorder.com/Cudnohufsky-s-life-of-design-20958246 & thanks again for the push to order a book I have been on the fence about for a month or tow!

  28. oops Deborah, would you please move my book comment to the correct story re: the library? I got the library one by email but it didn’t come up at first on the actual site when I decided to comment. Now I get it – there are two library posts!

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