Ages: 60 and 61
Location: Monona, WI
Lynda Finn never considered herself particularly artistic or creative. She would sometimes wonder, when admiring someone else’s work of art or craft project, if she could do that too, but that was as far as it went. Emily Jones, Lynda’s wife, has always had crocheting as her form of artistic expression (“When our friends were having babies,” Lynda says, “they all got crocheted gifts from us.”) and dance. Now, however, both Lynda and Emily are creative dynamos, making a new arts and crafts project almost every week.
Lynda and Emily met as students at Cornell University. In 1981, they moved to Madison, Wisconsin where Lynda was pursuing graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin- Madison in Statistics. They have lived there ever since and only recently “mostly retired” from their jobs as a computer programmer (Emily) and business consultant (Lynda). Their downtime was spent pursuing individual hobbies (Emily has been in an improvisational dance class for 35 years and Lynda plays competitive Scrabble, which is how our paths crossed) and joint ventures like aquatics and being in an improv troupe together. They also enjoy doting on their beloved pet birds, Lucky the eclectus parrot and Tom the cockatiel.
The extent of their artistic expression, other than Emily’s crocheting, was making origami animals on New Year’s Eve. “That was it,” Lynda says. “I never considered myself creative or had any kind of outlet for that kind of thing before.” That changed three years ago, when their good friend Linda was facing retirement. Linda was always crafty, and Lynda and Emily had long admired her artistic creations. “She was always fiddling with something,” Emily says. “And she could never throw anything away because it could possibly be incorporated into an art project,” Lynda recalls.
Linda was very nervous about her impending retirement and how she was going to fill her time. Lynda, who was semi-retired at the time, decided to ease her friend’s anxiety by coming up with a weekly activity she could enjoy. “I told her ‘I’ve got your Monday afternoons covered,’” Lynda says. “I thought that having an activity on the books would be a good idea.” So the weekly arts and crafts club was born. Lynda and Emily recruited another friend, Lynnie, and the four of them agreed to take turns hosting each week and coming up with crafts to do together.
The crafting wasn’t simply to play to Linda’s strengths and interests. It was more about the fellowship and helping their friend with her transition to retirement than it was about the art.
But a funny thing happened. Everyone’s inner artist was unleashed and the women, there are now eight of them who meet almost every week of the year, have discovered that they all have creativity within them that needed to be expressed.
The club grew instantly once the founding four started posting their creations on social media. Suddenly Lynda was besieged with requests to join the club but they have limited to eight women since that is all they can fit around their respective tables. There is a waitlist and Lynda jokes that “one of us has to pass away before a spot will open up.”
The women take turns hosting each week and whoever hosts comes up with the craft and provides the supplies for it. Sometimes the host explains how to make the craft or she prints out instructions for everyone or they watch a YouTube video together on how to make whatever is on the agenda for that day. They made duct tape wallets for their first get-together and Lynda and Emily hosted the second gathering when they made succulents in martini glasses. “We still have tons of sand left over,” Emily says. “So if anyone needs sand for their project, we’re good.”
They meet for two to three hours each Monday afternoon and intentionally pick crafts that can be finished within that timeframe. “We have learned that we do not go back and finish things that aren’t completed,” Emily says. “I love that it is a defined amount of time and when we are done we are done.” (A running joke is that the time limit also helps keep them from crossing the line into ungapatchka, a Yiddish word for something that is overly ornate and ridiculously over-decorated.) Emily also loves the variety of crafts they have tackled over the years, everything from cupcake decorating to popup cards to making things out of aluminum cans.
One of their favorite crafts, and one they repeated because it was so successful and well-received, was alcohol ink decorations on glass Christmas tree ornaments. “They turned out so beautiful and different,” Lynda says. And that is, in fact, what she most loves about the crafts club. “We all watch the same instructional video or read the same instructions,” she says. “But each one looks so different. You’d never know they came from the same instructions.” She loves that everyone has her own idea and just runs with it in such different directions.
Not everything turns out as planned. “We once watched a video on how to draw a bird,” Emily says. “Some of them looked like birds, and some did not.” But that is not the point. “It is not the outcome, it is the process,” Lynda says. “It feels really good to just forget about everything,” Emily adds, “and do something different for a few hours.” And being together is nice too. “It helps that we are all friends,” Lynda says. “Crafting is really just an excuse to get together and socialize each week.”