Most people believe an artist leaves a bit of themselves in their work, but when Amanda Heinz-Stevenson builds her matchbox shrines, she hopes just the opposite. “It’s not about me,” she says. “I’m just the hands in the operation.”
In what started as a personal project honoring her women ancestors, Heinz-Stevenson has continued to create shrines out of matchboxes, giving others a place to find reverence for themselves and their loved ones. Her first shrine was constructed from an old dresser drawer, but Heinz-Stevenson felt that contemplative spaces should be convenient, too. Her challenge: to create a shrine small enough not to clutter up a room, but detailed enough to make a big emotional impact.
“I like to think of it as a tiny revolution,” she says.
Heinz-Stevenson usually makes multiple shrines at a time. She works off inspiration, not commission, believing that an ancestral force tells her when a specific message is needed for someone at a certain time. From there, the artist decorates her boxes with encouraging sayings, pieces of origami, tiny baubles, and vintage photos.
“I don’t always understand the significance of a certain message until it finds itself in the hands of its intended owner,” she says. One morning, she explains, she woke up with the saying “We all make mistakes” in her head. She incorporated the message into a shrine and posted a photo of the project on social media.
“I immediately got feedback from people who found varied meanings in it: one person who was forgiving someone for making mistakes, and someone who had made mistakes and needed to be reminded they weren’t alone.” Another comment came from a mother “who wanted her kids to see [the message] everyday and remember they are just imperfect humans.”
The mom bought the shrine. Sometimes, says the artist, “I watch complete strangers pick up a shrine and say, ‘This was meant for me.’ That keeps me trusting the process.”
On the back of each matchbox, Heinz-Stevenson inscribes a simple artist’s statement: “This shrine is dedicated to the liberation and harmonious development of all beings.” By stating her intentions, she hopes to reassure the shrine holders that they will always have a place to find quiet in their lives, and to feel like they aren’t alone.
“We live in a busy world where many folks feel disconnected — not seen for who they truly are; not accepted or supported. I hope the shrines can be a reminder to slow down and offer each other compassion,” she says.
Although chosen by Heinz-Stevenson for their miniature appeal, all matchboxes carry a weightier symbolism — and their original purpose is not lost on the artist. “Fire is a transformative act. I feel creating shrines also holds the power to be transformative.”
Amanda Heinz-Stevenson, River Arts District, Eco Depot Marketplace (408 Depot St. #100, Asheville). Also at Asheville Emporium, 35 Wall St., Asheville. For more information, visit firestartershrines.com