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ANGELS SPROUTING ALL OVER IN CHERUBIC WARES

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If you haven't noticed, angels - the winged versions - are everywhere. On top of your neighbor's Christmas tree. On your daughter's dresser. On Aunt Ann's china pattern.

While designers may soon feel that gilded cherubs have overextended their welcome, it's clear that angels have gone far beyond a design trend - a sweet motif for the guest bath.As long as people believe, halo lapel pins will sell.

Do you believe in angels?

A recent Gallup survey asked the same question and found 72 percent of adults do believe. In 1988 only 50 percent believed that heavenly messengers exist. A Gallup Youth Survey this summer revealed that 76 percent of teenagers believed in angels as well.

The widespread belief in angels is being courted heavily, too. NBC aired a documentary on angels earlier this year. Angel Times, a magazine containing poetry, artwork and interviews with believers, published its debut issue this summer. An angel program, examining encounters with, history of and meaning of angels, is available on CD-ROM. The New Jersey-based Angel Watch Foundation circulates a newsletter for members to share their encounters.

Specialty stores that deal exclusively with angel merchandise are popping up across the country and are enjoying brisk business. They sell angel T-shirts, angel figurines, angel pins, angel afghans . . . angel everything.

Entrepreneurs Deborah Piper and Diane Waller are examples of those helping spread the word with their business, A Wing and a Prayer. Working out of two kiosks in Birmingham, Ala.'s Riverchase Galleria, they are providing the angel enthusiast with one-stop shopping for angel Advent calenders, light switches, soap, pillows, tree toppers, jewelry, refrigerator magnets, candlesticks, golf balls and books - even cookbooks (for heavenly concoctions).

"We've brought a lot of comfort to people, I think," Piper says. "We've heard wonderful stories about guardian angels."

And then there are the books. A trip to most any large bookstore reveals shelves of books that cover everything you ever wanted to know about angels - from fiction to real-life encounters to advice on getting to know your own guardian angels.

"I think people find comfort in them (angels), and people are looking for spiritual comfort," says Lynn Grisard Fullman, author and free-lance writer.

Fullman says she isn't sure that angels truly are revealing themselves to the earthbound more now than ever before, but she does credit a mushrooming awareness of angels with the popularity of the books.

"I think people who've had experiences feel more comfortable talking about them," she says.