35 Years of Love From the Queen of Handmade Valentines

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(Caption: The walls of Amber Ireland’s dining room are ready to inspire all the folk artists who will gather to create over the next few weeks. All photos credit: Yahoo Makers.)

“I don’t send Christmas cards,” says Amber Ireland, an art collector and folk artist in Venice, California. “I usually have quite a long list of valentines to make.”

Some people go all out with Christmas decorations, others love to do up their homes for Fourth of July or Halloween. For Ireland, though, it’s Valentine’s Day that takes over her house and brings friends and family together each year. 

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(Caption: This valentine from a friend of Ireland’s has been made from an old calendar page and is a tiny replica of Ireland’s dining room just before Valentine’s Day.)

She creates new handmade cards to send out and displays literally hundreds of her favorites from years past. Each is a unique creation, some funny and some achingly romantic, and each is a snapshot from a moment in Ireland’s life.

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For over 35 years, Ireland’s dining room has been a hub of creative activity in the weeks leading up to February 14. You can easily spend hours staring at the dining room walls of Ireland’s home, which is a short walk from the the tourists and bodybuilders at Venice Beach

Almost every inch, from floor to ceiling, is covered with handmade valentines that she, friends and family have created since they were in grade school.

“It sometimes seems like a hall of exes,” she says. There are cards from ex- husbands and boyfriends, and also cards to and from her children, grandchildren and friends. 

The cards hanging aren’t just to and from Ireland, but to and from many friends and family who gave their cards to her to be displayed in the yearly museum. She remembers the story behind each one. 

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(Caption: Amber loves a romantic“goopy” valentine.)

“Here is a great one,” says Ireland, “I wanted a goopy romantic valentine from my boyfriend, Edward. He took that very literally and made me this great goopy bursting heart.”

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(Caption: Here is a very literal take on the “goopy” valentine from her boyfriend Edward.)

Wendy Jordan, Ireland’s friend since junior high school, flies down each year from Oakland to craft new cards, and she and Ireland spend most of their waking hours creating valentines.

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This year Jordan helped hang the cards, too, but she admits that part of their annual project is too exhausting. “I’m never doing that again. It’s a pain. I had no idea how long it takes,” she says.

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(Caption: Amber Ireland and her lifelong friend Wendy Jordan work together to complete a valentine.)

Each day, other guests are invited or just pop in to join the long-standing tradition. On this particular day, Ireland’s daughter, Nell Copilow, her five-year-old grandson, Shaw, and a preschool friend were all busily crafting. 

They chat while they work, and Ireland finds people often talk about how they hate whatever card they happen to be making at the moment.

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(Caption: Shaw, Ireland’s grandson, focuses on tracing his hand on an old folder for his next valentine creation.)

“At the time that they make them, no one likes their own,” Ireland says, “but friends come back years later and say, ‘I love this one’ when they are looking at the wall, and I say, ‘That’s yours! You made that one.’

The whole room is magical. You can’t stand in it for long without getting the itch to start creating yourself.

Ireland says that each year themes for the cards seem to arise organically among the artists. There have been years where the focus was on collage, sewing, paper folding, paper weaving, or painting. 

Ireland stores boxes and boxes of supplies: magazines, books of poetry, old greeting cards, glitter, glue, ribbons, endless styles of paper, lace, stamps and much more fill a corner of her living room, but everyone agrees that the best valentines are made from scraps. Every bit of paper that falls on the floor or table is collected to be reused in a new valentine.

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(Caption: In this small corner, there are over sixty valentines to admire. Ireland remembers the maker and story behind each one.)

“I save candy bar and gum wrappers, even the plastic nets that fruit comes in from the grocery store for the valentines. I can’t throw anything away. It drives me crazy,” says Jordan.

This use of scraps is what Ireland loves best about making valentines. “I love folk art and that people can make things out of whatever is available. I love the idea that just scraps can be made into something beautiful, and I love the romance in someone making something that turns out beautiful for someone else.”

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(Caption: The scrap bin teems with treasures for future valentines.)

For most people, Valentine’s Day is about romance and maybe a night out at a restaurant, but for Ireland and her family and friends, it’s really a chance to create together, side by side with people you love. As they return to start the process again each year, they even learn a little something about themselves.

"People are most attracted to their own work, even if they’re insecure when they’re making it,” says Ireland.  “It’s magical. It really is.”

Here are more photos from Ireland’s Valentine extravaganza.

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You can easily run out of time to create if you spend too much time admiring the walls.

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 Ireland made this valentine when she was about 4-years-old.

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This tiny pocket-size book was made by Ireland for her daughter Nell when she was a child. Each page has a different sweet tableau on it.

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In a valentine from a family friend, this tough guy hands his own beating heart to Ireland.

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A funny card to Amber’s son, Shaw, jokes about the year Shaw underwent some unpleasant dental work just before Valentine’s Day.

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One of Ireland’s favorite valentines is from her friend Wendy Jordan.

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Folding paper organically became the theme of many valentines the year this card was made. 

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Another year, fruit bag netting was a big hit with the card-makers. 

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Most valentines, like this one that Jordan is creating, take many hours to complete.

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Once the scraps begin piling up on the floor, Ireland and Jordan challenge themselves to gather them all up and crank out a a quick card in fifteen minutes. Ireland says “It can really help loosen up the creative juices.”

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Nell Copilow made a card from tiny scraps.

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One valentine, from Shaw’s dad to his mom, was made from the lid of a Tiffany jewelry box.


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