“My inspiration for this collection was a woman named Mieke Frankenberg,” says Seymour. She always used to say, ‘If you think life is insurmountable and times are tough, go help someone else. It takes you out of yourself and ultimately helps you.’ If your heart is broken and you close it off, you can’t let the negativity out, and you can’t let new love in.”
The lessons from Frankenburg—Seymour’s mother—were born of firsthand experience with tough life. Born in Holland to a stern, Victorian, police-chief father and a mother who suffered from mental illness, at age 21 she married a man who later proved to be abusive, and moved to Indonesia with him. She escaped her marriage by hiding in a jungle, but when World War II broke out, she was captured and placed in a Japanese internment camp. To augment the starvation rations allowed by the Japanese, Frankenberg ate snakes and bugs. She escaped from the camp, met some British Royal Air Force officers and persuaded them to take her to England along with the English citizens they were evacuating.
Once in England, she went to work for the Dutch Red Cross and later met Seymour’s father, John Frankenberg. Seymour was born a year and a day later, and her parents were married 40 years. Her father died in 1990.
Despite her tribulations, Frankenberg remained focused on helping others, and it was this outlook that inspired Seymour, during her own tribulations, to heal herself through painting.
“Till the day she died, my mother was always concerned first about helping others,” says Seymour. “Even with crippling arthritis and macular degeneration, when she could barely see and was in constant and terrible pain, she had a telephone with huge numbers and she’d help her friends over the phone.”
While she didn’t have to eat bugs to survive, Seymour’s own life has had its share of challenges. At age 20, she almost died from anaphylactic shock.
“I was dead—I saw my body [on the table], and I begged to go back so that I can make a difference. I realized the only thing you take with you [when you die] is the difference you make.” Her wish was granted and she survived, but her trials weren’t over. Eighteen years ago, she discovered her then-husband not only was unfaithful but also had left her beyond penniless and in deep debt, despite her success as an actress.
It was about that time that Seymour turned to painting as an outlet. An artist friend had seen some of the finger paintings she’d done for her children, recognized her talent, and gave her free lessons. Her first major painting was a floral watercolor with pastel and newsprint.
As she started painting seriously, she also landed her famed role as Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. She painted on the set between takes, and the crew clamored for her pieces. Eventually, her work found its way into top art galleries. Among her more famous works is Woman in a Red Dress, part of a series of seven paintings of women of all ages dancing in red dresses. The series was initially sponsored by the American Heart Association and California Pistachios as a means of alerting the public that heart disease kills more women than breast cancer—indeed, more than all cancers put together, says Seymour.
The Open Heart paintings, however, were a tangible expression of the “open heart” philosophy of Mieke Frankenberg. Seymour started with one, and then began to link the hearts and develop an entire series of single, double, and families of hearts. “When you love someone, you take on some of them, and they take on some of you,” she says.
She decided to have a necklace made of her favorite connected-heart painting. She approached jeweler and friend Jack Kelege, who executed the design in platinum and diamond.
When Seymour was approached to perform on Dancing With the Stars, she was again facing a very tough moment in her life—her beloved mother had had a stroke and was rendered immobile. But when Seymour told her of the offer to appear on the program, she uttered one word: “Yes.”
In between commuting to England to see her mother, Seymour started Dancing and wore the special two-heart necklace every time she appeared. It became an icon—and one that other Dancing stars also have worn. It was during a dinner with the show’s sponsors that Sterling CEO Mark Light saw her necklace and the idea was born to create a line of pieces for the jeweler. (See “The Story Behind Jane Seymour’s Open Hearts Jewelry,” page 96.)
Sterling’s versions have had some notable stories of their own, says Seymour, such as a mother and daughter who, for reasons long forgotten, didn’t get along most of their lives. But after seeing the Open Hearts message on television, they decided to let their animosity go and repaired their relationship. Another story was that of a young boy whose parents are divorced. He saw the Sterling commercial and wanted to buy an Open Hearts necklace for his mother but didn’t have enough money. He asked his father to help out, and ultimately, while his parents didn’t reconcile, they were able to put aside their differences, begin to heal, and better manage the parenting of their child, says Seymour.
Seymour isn’t stopping there. As one of the official painters for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, her mantra, “Compete with an open heart,” will inspire the athletes. “No matter what goes on [in the world], all countries come together to compete in the Olympics,” she says.
Indeed, the “open heart” attitude spans all cultures, Seymour emphasizes. Love is universally positive. And while she has become something of a self-help guru, with eight books to her credit—her Open Hearts: If Your Heart Is Open It Can Never Stay Broken, published in December 2008, is in its second printing—it’s her mother whom she says deserves the real credit. “I think this message is what the world needs to hear right now,” Seymour says. “I’m sure my mom is very proud, but I think especially if she knows that her message has helped people to cope, that would mean the most to her.”