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Published August 29, 2008, 12:00 AM

She’s got a lot on her plate

Woman turns china into mementos
It’s too bad Barnesville isn’t closer to Greece. Diane Nelson’s business would thrive off the Greek tradition of breaking plates.

By: Kelly Smith, The Forum

Barnesville, Minn.

It’s too bad Barnesville isn’t closer to Greece.

Diane Nelson’s business would thrive off the Greek tradition of breaking plates.

While a broken plate would be a travesty for some, for the Barnesville craftswoman – like the Greek – it’s a joy.

She collects hundreds of colorful antique and thrift store china plates every year. Then she breaks – or cuts – them, and crafts them into earrings, tree ornaments or angel figurines.

“I just keep thinking what more I can make out of broken dishes,” she says.

Her love for dishes spurred another plate-centered decoration: wind chimes.

Plates, it turns out, make sturdy wind chime tops.

She crafts her creations inside a crowded tiny closet connected to her bedroom that was supposed to be a small bathroom. She has shelves of cut glass and piles of plates ready to be transformed into angels and ornaments.

“It’s just what I do,” she says. “It’s become like a job.”

That “job” is attending eight craft shows a year to sell her plate and glass gifts.

Her husband, Merle, is 68 and has retired from farming. He doesn’t accompany her on trips; he still finds work to do in the field. As she says, he’s the typical farmer: “They never seem to quit.”

And apparently, neither can the farmer’s wife.

Besides filling boxes with her crafts and touring shows, the 65-year-old is a wedding consultant for a church and part of the Barnesville Cemetery Association board.

“You’re supposed to be retired at this age,” she admits. “(But) it gives me something to do.”

And she’ll keep on doing craft shows with a friend “until we can’t carry the tents into the park, of course,” she says with a laugh.

On the outskirts of the town where Nelson was born and grew up in, she continues her hobby, surrounded by quilts, plants, photos of her four grandchildren and lots of collectibles.

Plates aren’t the only things she collects.

Glass trophy cases filled with village building sets line her dining room. Roosters adorn the room’s shelves. And angel figurines decorate her living room and fireplace mantle.

“I collect everything,” she says.

But the plates she collects are what transform the lives of strangers when she turns thrown-out plates or broken heirlooms into treasured gifts.

When a client frantically contacted Nelson with news that her grandma’s butter dish had broken, Nelson came to the rescue. She turned the broken pieces into pennant necklaces each family member could wear around her or his neck.

Turning a dish that’s collecting dust on a top shelf or one that’s accidentally broken into a treasure makes Nelson’s hobby gratifying.

“It’s being able to make something out of these family treasures,” she says. “It just makes it so much more special for them.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515