About four years ago, a group of individuals from the lakes area got together with a common goal: To create an "Angel of Remembrance" statue and healing garden on the campus of Essentia Health St. Mary's Hospital in Detroit Lakes.

Specifically, according to the group's founder, Hope Mathern, the purpose of this statue and healing garden would be to serve as "a sanctuary of honor, remembrance, hope and healing to those who have lost children through miscarriage, stillbirth, infant loss, or at any age."

Local artist Hans Gilsdorf was commissioned to create the bronze statue, and now, after several years of fundraising and planning for the $70,000 project, Gilsdorf has begun sculpting the life size forms of the infant and angel.

"I did a lot of pencil sketches, and we settled on this design," said Gilsdorf, referring to the tiny scale model, or "mockette" of the statue that he created using "Super Sculpey" clay. "It's a clay that never cures until you bake it in an oven, so it's super user-friendly."

Gilsdorf says that there was a lot of research involved in creating the details of the statue. "We wanted to create something that's hopeful," he explained.

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"The whole idea was that we wanted to show that there's always something or someone watching over your child... an angel, a spirit, or whatever you want to call it," Mathern said, adding that she hoped it would provide a sense of comfort - "a little bit of hope" - to parents grieving the loss of a child, as well as to those who are coping with a child's serious illness or injury.

Gilsdorf is in the process of sculpting the life-size forms of the angel and infant out of a combination of clay, steel armature and styrofoam. Mathern came to Gilsdorf's rural Detroit Lakes studio on Monday afternoon to get a sneak peek at the statue.

"I think it's amazing," she said. "It shows that our children are still being taken care of even if we no longer can."

Though they will not be part of the final statue, the forms need to be solid and stable enough to survive the four-hour trip from Gilsdorf's studio in rural Detroit Lakes to the Casting Creations foundry in Howard Lake, Minn., which is where the bronze statue itself will be cast.

"I want to make sure there's no surprises (during transport)," he said.

The forms will be used to create the wax and ceramic molds into which the bronze will eventually be poured - after being heated to more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Though he started working on the forms in December, Gilsdorf said he had to take a recess for another, weather-dependent project: The creation of King Isbit's Royal Courtyard, sculpted out of Detroit Lake ice, which was unveiled during February's Polar Fest celebration.

The project itself is also proving to be one that requires a lot of time and attention, he admitted.

"It's such a complicated piece," Gilsdorf said. "It changes as I go."

He estimates that it will take until mid-summer to complete; once the statue is cast, however, the site on the hospital grounds will be ready for it to be placed.

"The site at St. Mary's was leveled off last fall and the concrete slab on which the statue base will be placed was poured," said Mathern. "The statue base is complete and is going to be sandblasted and delivered to the site."

Though the initial fundraising goal of $65,000 for the Angel of Remembrance project has been met, the increased cost of materials since it was first conceived meant that another $5,000 was needed to complete it, she added.

Those who would still like to contribute are asked to go to the web page and designate their gift for the Angel of Remembrance project. All donations are tax deductible.

"If they (the donor) would like their child's name on the statue base, they can put that name in the tribute information," Mathern said. "We also encourage a donation of $150 per name, as this will allow for us to offer scholarships to those who are not able to afford this expense."

Those who would prefer to speak with someone about their donation in person can also contact Mathern at 701-540-2384, or via the "Angel of Remembrance" Facebook page.

"We plan to have the project completed this summer and hold a dedication ceremony at the site," she said. "The plan is also to have services in the fall and over the holidays for families to come and honor their children during difficult times of the year."