Hand sculptures help families grieve and grow

Hand sculptures help families grieve and grow
Hand sculptor Matt Blade fills an alginate hand mold with a plaster compound on Aug. 1. Blade uses alginate to create a negative mold and then molds a plaster positive which he details and mounts on a base. (Jonathan Miksanek/BSU Journalism at the Fair)
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Do you really know the back of your hand? Artist Matt Blade thinks you don’t until you have a “lifecast sculpture.”

Situated behind a lemonade vendor within earshot of the Music of the Andes tent, Precious Hands, Priceless Memories has set up shop at the Indiana State Fair.

The lifelike sculptures are cast with dental alginate and are non-toxic. Casting takes about 45 seconds, but the detailing that makes the sculptures come to life can take up to an hour, depending on the amount of customers, Blade said.

“I use dental tools that I get from my dentist in Rhode Island,” Blade said. “Free is for me.”

Blade travels across the northeast and middle section of the country and is stationed in Ft. Myers, Fla. He is a retired hospital administrator and wanted to learn the trade to keep busy and satisfy his “type-A personality.”

“I’m not doing this to pay a mortgage; I’m debt free,” Blade said. “It is for the people, stories and happiness that these sculptures give.”

“I think this is awesome. Can I take a picture to send to my kids to see if they think this is creepy or cool?” a curious customer asked.

One hand will cost you $31.95. A face cast costs a little more, and if feet are your thing, the size of your foot will determine the price of the sculpture.

Blade said he would make millions if he would cast the middle-finger pose. He refuses. He is frequently asked to cast genitals, to which he answers, “No, sorry, I forgot my Dixie cups.”

Because of his experience with hospitals, Blade enjoys doing casts of hospice patients to give to their families.

Blade said 99 percent of the women that pick up their children’s hand sculptures cry.

Kayla Crandall is a writer for BSU Journalism at the Fair, a Ball State University immersive-learning project placing 25 student journalists at the heart of the Midway to tell the weird and wonderful stories of the 2014 Indiana State Fair.