Little flakes of paper fall to the board in Keith Bonnstetter’s lap, as he carves the folded white sheets with small, golden scissors. A tiny awl creates dots, eyes and lace-like holes. Minutes later, an angel begins to appear at the edge of the folded snowflake.
“If people send me pictures, I use them,” the Davenport resident said. He points to a snowflake with intricate pumpkins, pineapples, deer, rabbits, rocking horses, snowmen, leaves, butterflies and cardinals. Each represents a facet of a family.
First he draws the design, then copies it onto tracing paper. He folds thick white paper into fourths, then on an angle. “It has to be perfectly creased,” he said, reinforcing a fold with his thumbnail.
He transfers the design onto the folded sheets and then begins to cut. The scissors, he said, have to go in at a straight angle. “That’s what makes everything evenly sized.”
He started cutting snowflakes in college but did not do detailed ones until about five years ago.
“When I first started, I didn’t do personalized ones,” he said. “I did a lot of themes. So, I started that way. Then, somebody asked if I would do a graduation from high school, and they gave me a list of everything they did in high school.
“People like that, because it’s about them.”
Mr. Bonnstetter turned his hobby into a business as a way to help pay medical bills for his daughter, Claire. In 1999 he and his wife, Marsha, took then 4-year-old Claire to the Mayo Clinic because she was having trouble walking. Doctors there told the couple Claire had Dejerine-Sottas disease, a nerve disorder. She’s since improved through chiropractic care, a priest’s blessing and therapy.
In 2000, he began making new characters in his snowflakes, like Santa, Rudolph, the Grinch, the Holy Family and the Magi, or three wise men. He took some of the snowflakes to Bettendorf High School, where he teaches Spanish.
“It went crazy,” he said. “I mean, people went nuts.” People began requesting the snowflakes and asking if they could buy them. “So, six months after, we paid the bills,” he said.
The snowflakes flurried into a small business, called ClearVisions: Personalized Paper Cuttings.
“I don’t advertise, ever,” he said. “It’s all word of mouth.” Last week, he sent two to Chicago and one to New Boston. “I have some in Utah, one in Japan, one going to Denmark,” he said. “They’re just everywhere.
“I truly don’t think I do this,” he said “I think God guides my hands in this. Everything is hooked together by little pieces of paper.”
He cuts more of the snowflake, and carves out the edges to a tenuous point. He said during the Christmas season, he sometimes cuts for three to four hours each day after work, and works all weekend on snowflakes.
“It starts with a flurry, and it becomes a snow shower, and now it’s a blizzard. I hope nobody calls this week,” he said, smiling.
“It brings people to tears sometimes,” he said. “I’ve done ones for people who have lost babies. It becomes a memorial.”
He said churches ask him to come talk about Claire and the snowflakes. He said he’s surprised at the number of doors his hobby opens. “It’s sharing the message of God and the things he’s able to do in your life.”
A snowflake in an 8-by-8 inch frame cost $58.85, and a snowflake in an 11-by-14 inch frame costs $80.25. However, “it’s not about the money. It’s a labor of love.”
After about 20 minutes, he unfolds the finished snowflake to reveal angels and the nativity scene with the baby Jesus in the center of the carved circle. “This is my favorite one,” he said. “It’s the whole nativity scene in one snowflake.”
The paper creation will be mounted on sueded mat board, and framed. Then the labor of love will become a present for someone new, who will see the wise men, the baby Jesus and the angels in the snow.
For more information on Keith Bonnstetter’s intricate paper snowflakes, call his business, ClearVisions: Personalized Paper Cuttings, at (563) 322-8117.