- Associated Press - Monday, January 16, 2017

JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) - Rusty Guinn didn’t plan on making more than one handcrafted wooden angel, or what he calls “Carols.”

“I made the first one, and thought that’s it,” Guinn told The Jonesboro Sun (https://bit.ly/2jAgRYp ).

But 800 “Carols” later, Guinn is still helping people who are grieving through the gift of his angels. Each “Carol” is made in his shop at his home in downtown Jonesboro and is quickly given away to someone who is passing away or to their loved ones to help them in their time of grief.

“I don’t ever have any finished ones,” Guinn said. “I would happen to have one, and I’d give it away. It’s like a worry stone made out of wood.”

Guinn has never sold any of the “Carols.” The idea came in 1993 when Guinn’s friend Carol Herget was in the hospital. With each angel he gives away, he tells the story of that first angel.

“I had (for want of a better description) a vision,” Guinn writes. “In the vision, I was told by God to go to my shop and create this woodcarving and to take it to Carol for her to have to hold in her hand during this time.”

Months later, Guinn got the notion to make another “Carol,” this time for Herget’s son, Ted. Guinn, in his story, said he knew Ted would need it the next day. Carol died that night Guinn made his second angel.

“To me, it just shows the character of people and the compassion of people,” Ted Herget said. “You’re at the lowest of your life, and you see compassion and love … It’s an amazing gesture of gratitude.”

Herget said the angel named after his mom still helps him today.

“You look back and realize how important that was,” Herget said. “At 18 you didn’t understand … He (Guinn) is the hero here. He’s helped a lot of people in really bad spots.”

Guinn’s wife, Sheila, also helps people with her own angels. After the couple lost a child in 1992, Sheila went to art therapy at St. Bernards, where she made ceramic angels and began giving them to others who were hurting. She said she gave angels out to families and friends waiting on their loved ones as they went through chemotherapy. Through the years, Guinn has made more than 20,000 angels.

“Neither one of us will be famous or wonderful, but we love what we do,” Sheila said.

Guinn took up painting two years ago, and the couple’s home is decorated with many of her paintings, including Sheila’s favorite that hangs in the living room, a visual ode to the couple’s first Christmas together, celebrated with tumbleweed instead of a Christmas tree. Each of Sheila’s paintings features the Chinese symbol for beauty, a reminder from the artist that beauty can be found anywhere.

“There’s beauty in everybody and everything,” Sheila said. “There’s beauty in everything in life … You just have to find it.”

Like her husband, Sheila said she doesn’t want to go into business, though she has sold a few of her paintings.

“People want me to be in their studio,” Sheila said. “I did not want the stress of producing them.”

One year, the couple made all of their Christmas ornaments with their newly adopted daughter. Years later, their grandchildren are carrying on their artistic legacy.

“Grandkids will come over, and now they’ll bring their friends over,” Rusty said. “One year, one said, ‘I want a train for Christmas.’ I said, ‘Let’s go make one.’”

Twenty years after they started helping people with their art, Sheila said they’ve made friends all over the world thanks to their work. She said they realize nothing that’s happened during the past 20 years has happened by chance.

“Nothing is coincidental,” Sheila said. “God puts you with people.”

“You’re placed in front of people at times you’re supposed to be in front of them,” Rusty said.

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Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, https://www.jonesborosun.com

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