Chris Spears takes a stand for fighting cancer in the best way she knows: by making and selling plant stands.
The 64-year-old Kenosha resident transforms repurposed household items into one-of-a-kind works of art, using the proceeds to support cancer research through Relay for Life.
It is something Spears started doing in 2013 when her late son, Ray Davis Jr., was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 40.
Creating the plant stands gave her peace of mind, she said in a recent interview from her home/workshop. “That was when I needed something to keep me busy,” she said.
Running with a craft idea she had seen in Lake Geneva, Spears began transforming ceramic serving bowls, funky glass plates and clunky glass flower vases into plant stands, bird baths and towel holders using glitter paint, frosted spray paints and some high-test adhesive.
She scouted elements for the stands between trips with Ray to his chemotherapy treatments. “It helped calm me down and gave me a sense of accomplishment when things weren’t bright.”
Ray died on May 22, 2016, and a year later, Spears was diagnosed with breast cancer. After successful treatment for her cancer, Spears returned to her art projects.
The whimsical and aesthetically pleasing stands Spears makes today are the result of trial, error and eventual success.
The unique construction of the stands involves three components: a base, a stem and a bowl. These are, respectively, an upturned ceramic or glass bowl to which is attached a flower vase (or two for increased height) topped by a glass platter, plate or curved serving bowl.
Spears connects the elements with a double epoxy she mixes herself. Seams are coated with silicone sealant and then painted to match the color scheme she is going for.
Paint is generally applied to the insides of the vases or underside of bowls and plates to prevent wear or weather damage.
In cases where the top bowl already has a design, Spears will work to match its color palette. Her design themes include flora, fauna and, occasionally, trademark NFL logos she purchases by customer request.
“A lot of time it’s matching something that’s already there and bringing them together with painting,” she said.
The final effect of the multi-purpose stands ranges from whimsical to elegant.
“It’s not as easy as it might look — I have tried boat paint and varnish (which didn’t work) and it took me years to find good silicone and epoxy,” she said.
Finding durable paints and an adhesive that would marry heavy glass pieces and withstand weather wasn’t easy, Spears said. Her first attempt was “ugly and did not last at all — it fell apart by week two,” she said.
Spears is always on the hunt for new stand components. “It’s really rare for me to find all three pieces — top, stem and base — at the same time,” she said.
Because the designs are completely unique, parts don’t always work the way Spears envisions they will. “If they don’t, I just give them back to Goodwill,” she said.
Spears’ initial intention was to create bird baths, but customers who have bought her stands have reported they use them as bathroom hand towel stands or nightstand tables.
Plant stands are a good solution for spaces where you can’t put a piece of furniture, she noted.
Spears is not an artist by trade or training but says she has always enjoyed “drawing, painting and doing things with my hands.”
As her prowess increased, so did her satisfaction with her stands. “I like the uniqueness of them,” she said. “I’m tempted to keep them for myself.”
But keeping them all didn’t quite work for her husband, William. When their home began to fill up with stands, he told her she needed to sell a few before she made any more.
This spring Spears applied to sell her stands at Kenosha’s HarborMarket and debuted her wares on Mother’s Day weekend.
Wondering if anyone would like them, Spears only signed up for one date, saying she’d be happy if she only sold three stands. When she sold eight the first day, she signed up for June 15 and July 20.
Although demand for her art has been a pleasant surprise, Spears says she doesn’t want making art to become a job. “I want to enjoy the process,” she said.
And, despite the whimsical-wow factor of the pieces, Spears did not originally create the items with the intention of selling them and even now profit is not part of the equation.
Profits from sales go to support Ray’s Kickin’ Stompin’ Cancer Team, a Relay for Life team headed up by Spears and Our Kenosha Tap, the local tavern Ray frequented.
Spears walked her first Relay for Life in 2013, with a friend from work, just before Ray was diagnosed.
The year he died, the bar got a Relay for Life team together, and held a pig roast fundraiser to sponsor it. The tradition has continued, and Spears uses funds from her stand sales for raffle baskets at the pig roast and for the team.
Chris says she dubbed the team Ray’s Kickin’ Stompin’ Cancer Team because “that was what Ray’s attitude was — he never gave in.”