Designer makes mark with thumbprints

by Austin Siegemund-Broka
Published September 4, 2008

About two years ago Colleen Berg sat at her brother’s deathbed with her sibling’s two 3-year-old sons and his 1-year-old daughter. Berg, a skilled jewelry designer, was so moved by his passing that she quickly took some of her brother’s fingerprints and, with them, created metal necklaces for the young children as eternal reminders of their father’s life and love.

In time the owner and artist of Hermosa’s Colleen Berg Jewelry expanded the fingerprint project into a jewelry series called the Thumbprint line.

“I came up with the thumbprint line, and I began to have so many people [come in] who had lost parents and children and those close to them. It’s just a way to keep the connection,” said Berg, as her own 7-year-old daughter, Sophie, sat down eagerly next to her mother.

Berg’s earlier career was as a social worker, a position in which she observed many in need of kindness and help. After two years, she decided she was not cut out for the work, and searched for other careers in her native New York City. But around the time of Sophie’s birth, the Sept. 11 terror attacks ripped through NYC and threw her job prospects into turmoil.

Several careers later Berg, took her passion for jewelry and these uniquely touching experiences and started designing her works. The thumbprint line came less than two years ago. Many in the local community have found it to be a unique memorial to friends and loved ones, and Berg’s touching and innovative works have found customers all across the U.S.

“Most of this is just a beautiful celebration, but, ultimately, I think it’s got this deeper purpose as well – to help people through these hard times,” said Berg.

Among her subjects, Berg’s work is not limited by gender, age, or even species. While she started with children’s prints for their parents and guardians, she now does prints of parents, grandparents, dear friends and even dogs and cats.

“You know, traditionally I’d been doing children’s prints, but my customers just came in and started saying, ‘How can I get my parents, how can I get my grandparents?’ to immortalize those prints to pass them down,” said Berg, toying with her own necklace with prints from her husband and two daughters.

Her make-your-own-imprint kits have been ordered all over America. The imprints are sent back to Berg to craft into jewelry. Customers include members of the Los Angeles and New York City police forces.

“A lot of it is grassroots word of mouth, but I think what every jewelry designer aspires to is to touch people, to touch their emotions, and I think this is doing that,” Berg said.

Beyond the thumbprint line, a recent partnership with Amnesty International has led to a special project to help stop violence against women: a silver necklace with a single handprint pendant. Twenty percent of sales go to Amnesty International’s programs for women’s safety with a special focus on sexual abuse and murder in Juarez, Mexico.

“There’s just no justice for these women,” said Berg, examining one of the necklaces, “and I’m proud to be part of the crusade for them.”

The jewelry can be purchased at www.colleenberg.com or at her store, 1312 Pacific Coast Highway at Pier Avenue. ER