Marcy Maeve Cornut, 61, crafts stuffed gnomes, using old sweaters, baby clothes and other materials to stitch together the five-to-six inch tall figures with her late mother’s 1956 Singer sewing machine, while seated at a desk on the second-floor of her colonial-style house on the Stepney side of town.
Some bearded gnomes have jelly bean patterns on their pointed hats, others have Yankees, Mets and Red Sox logos, another has a pom pom at the end from a baby’s hat and Cornut even made a Jerry Gnomcia after Grateful Dead singer Jerry Garcia.
Aside from allowing her creativity and imagination to run wild, the gnomes bring smiles to recipients’ faces and literally give Cornut something fun to live for each day.
“Instead of lying in bed at night and thinking about cancer, I can think, ‘I should do one with ladybugs. I can do one with an Easter basket with eggs in it,'” Cornut said, while sitting in the enclosed porch in back of her home with friends Wednesday morning.
Cornut has Stage 4 bone cancer and sells her gnomes through the Facebook page, Gnomes for Life, to help pay for her treatments.
“It just took off,” she said of making gnomes. “I can’t work, so it was a way for me to keep occupied, be creative and raise money for the $17,000 a month for chemo pills.”
Cornut is insured with military coverage through her husband, Charles, who had a 32-year-Army-career, but still has some high co-pays.
Marcy Cornut has a son, Daniel, 31, who is on active duty in the Navy, and daughter, Raven Martin, 38, who lives in San Diego.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer 20 years ago, had a lumpectomy, chemo and radiation treatments and was clean for 17 years. But at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic she was in so much pain, she went to Bridgeport Hospital.
“They did an MRI and cancer spread to my bones, so I began this journey,” Cornut said, her eyes welling up. “There’s no cure for bone cancer, so I’m on constant chemo. They try to contain it the best they can, so it doesn’t get to your organs. They’ve been able to contain it so far, but it’s smart.”
“I have a wonderful oncologist,” she said of Dr. Michael Cohenuram. “He’s the kind of doctor who cups your face and says, ‘you’re going to be okay.’ I’m on constant chemo for the rest of my life, so it’s exhausting at times.”
Born to create
Cornut’s maiden name is Marcy Meave Benham. She grew up in different places, but mostly in Trumbull, with her parents and two brothers.
“My mom always encouraged me to be creative,” she said. “When I was young I made my own curtains for a potting shed. I excelled in art. I was always artistic.”
Her brothers excelled in school. David went on to become an architect who designed chapels for The Rev. Billy Graham and graced the cover of American Architect magazine, and Doug designs software for various companies. But Cornut was never overshadowed by her siblings.
“My mother always said, ‘the world has its Einsteins and Frank Loyds, but still needs its Monets, Mozarts and Degas,'” Cornut said with a smile.
After her mother died, Cornut took one of her sweaters and made memory mice, four-inch long stuffed animals, as keepsakes for relatives.
On Wednesday, she looked at all of the decorations and furniture around her and said, “all the stuff on this back porch is off the side of a road or from a flea market.”
Cornut designed dealers’ booths for group shops in New York, but primarily worked as an administrator in the medical field, most recently at OB/GYN in Fairfield.
A shopping trip with her daughter three years ago nudged Cornut into the gnome-making business.
“My daughter saw a gnome at T.J. Maxx and said, ‘oh, this is so cute,'” Cornut recalled. “The nose was crooked and it was glued on. I said, ‘I can make a better one than this.'”
Raven’s friends loved her gnome, so she soon asked her mother if she could make more for them. Raven later told her mother she should charge for the gnomes, because of the cost of materials.
Cornut’s son Daniel designed the Gnomes for Life Facebook page and set up a Venmo account on July 14, 2021. The gnomes range from five dollars for a standard one to up-to-$20 for a gnome with special features.
Cornut has shipped orders to California, Colorado, Maryland and Florida, and recently sent an order of four gnomes to a military base overseas.
“It kind of bloomed,” she said. “One woman said, ‘can you make them exactly the same?’ I said, ‘no, they are all unique.'”
The gnomes are made from repurposed clothing and stuffed with rice. One woman’s late father always wore Hawaiian shirts, so Cornut used the shirts to make memory gnomes.
“They came out cute with their Hawaiian hats,” she said.
Cornut stitches parts together on the sewing machine, then assembles the gnomes in front of her TV downstairs.
“I’m like Henry Ford,” she said of the famed automaker. “I do an assembly line.” She held up seven parts with hats, noses and beards in one hand.
A family of fighters
The Benham family has a storied military history, with relatives fighting in nearly every military conflict the country has had, dating all the way back to King Philip’s War in 1675, before the American Revolution.
Cornut said she would qualify to be a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Her middle name is Maeve, after the Warrior Queen of Ireland.
Cornut has a strong interest in history, particularly the Civil War. She owns a vast library of books on generals, monuments and other aspects of the conflict, and participates in reenactments.
“I was studying to be a battlefield guide,” she recalled. “I was active in Gettysburg and Civil War reenactment groups. I wore period dresses.”
After her first marriage ended, she later started dating Charles Cornut, who she met through their daughters, who were friends in middle school.
“On our second date, I answered the door in my hoop skirt,” she recalled. “I had to change and he said, ‘wow, you’re really into this!'”
Charles and Marcy Cornut went to reenactments together and she said he felt out-of-place until buying his own uniform. “We got engaged in Gettysburg,” she said.
The couple has been married for 15 years.
A ‘Tough Old Mick’
Cornut has a dependable network of friends, many of whom she met on Facebook.
One page she often visits is Buy Nothing Monroe, where she gifts many of her belongings, while ensuring the new owners treasure the items as much as she did. The other page she frequents is Monroe CT Residents.
“I’m blessed that I have such good friends,” Cornut said, recalling how she and one friend wear tiaras while going out to lunch together.
On Wednesday, she sat on her porch with Barbara Fahr, Nancy Sorge and Debbie Donofree.
“Through Facebook, Monroe has become a much smaller community,” Fahr said. “The town is interconnected.”
“Marcy had posted about the fact she had been on the phone with the hospital, because of her medical expenses,” Donofree said. “It broke my heart, because she shouldn’t be stressing about this, so we started the Facebook group, Tough Old Mick.”
In less than a week, the group already has a “tribe” of 72 members, who post uplifting messages to brighten Cornut’s day.
“Every day somebody is posting something for Marcy,” Sorge said. “She needs something to make her smile. It doesn’t have to be monetary. It’s support.”
“It’s a pick-me-up,” Cornut agreed.
However, members have the option of donating gift cards.
“There’s not a lot of money left over after medical bills,” Donofree said. “We ask people to give us gift cards.”
Cornut has spent Amazon gift cards on materials for her gnomes, and used other gift cards for supplies at Goodwill or to go out to dinner with her husband.
“I am so blessed to have met so many kind people,” she said. “Strangers that have become friends make my journey bearable, and that makes me smile everyday.”
Of those ordering gnomes, Cornut said, “I’m honestly blessed because I know some of them are buying them just to help me and it’s really touching when someone wants to help another human.”
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