Jottings contributor Marlene O'Brien shares how her group of neighbors built strong friendships with art and crafts.

Wood carving was a fun craft for the friends in Marlene O'Brien's art club.

Many years ago, after moving to a new city, I was eager to get established, meet new friends and do something creative.

A group of neighbors was getting together to do craft projects in the evening, and I joined them. One member turned a large part of her basement into a studio, with cubicles to store our supplies, tables for each of us to have a space, a water source for cleanup and even a room where we could eat, drink wine and have fun. We were off to beautify our homes and possibly the world.

We started with tole painting (a folk art of decorative painting), working in oil paints, which was the popular thing to do at that time. The neighbor next door to the studio had a table saw, and would cut our wood projects.

One member decided to paint a child's bedroom set. She installed industrial springs on the footboard, and mounted huge, colorful, wooden flowers to each spring. However, when the small child moved in bed, the flowers danced, twirled and defeated the sleeping process. But it was cute!

After a few years, we decided to branch out. We would call the Contemporary Craft Gallery in downtown Portland and get an instructor to come out to our studio to teach us, dividing the cost among us, which made the experience convenient and affordable. We decided to do those special crafts on Saturday, in order to spend the whole day immersed in art.

Our first adventure was with punching tin. We punched tin lamp shades with patterns galore for the lamps we already had. We punched tin plates that we hung on our walls and tin cups that we used for pencil holders on our desks.

But the most fun craft was weaving Appalachian egg baskets. Were you to look through the windows of our studio, you would see women sitting at tables, each with a Costco detergent bucket full of water by their side. The reeds used for weaving the baskets had to be wet and pliable when we were weaving, but couldn't be soaked beforehand or they would splinter. We worked one reed at a time out of our water bucket.

One of our members was a pastry chef for a local restaurant, and she took us to a commercial kitchen to bake something of our choice. We all voted to make croissants, as they are so flaky and delicious. We learned why they are so wonderful. Each time you kneaded the dough, you kneaded in a quarter pound of sweet cream butter, and we did that three times! At least with this lesson we got to consume our product.

But our major, and continuing, instruction was in wood carving. An instructor came one Saturday a month for a year. He gave us the basic techniques and the patterns and sketches we used. We experimented with the different woods, and even purchased two sets of carving tools, plus a protective fish-cleaning glove from the local marine store. The glove was worn on the non-carving hand which held your wood piece, and was placed behind the carving area. The tools we used were exceedingly sharp, and the glove added protection in case you did not place your hand behind the work. Also, we never carved on a face if we were nervous or anxious. No amount of wood putty could duplicate any nose or ear that you might accidentally carve off.

Over the years, we had crafting weekends at a cabin on Mount Hood. We could carve away on the deck and brush the shavings off on the ground where they blended perfectly with the landscape. Some women were busy painting their pieces and some of us just had fun spending time with friends, walking in the woods and eating wonderful food.

Friendships were made and that was the value of our crafting experience that lasted 45 years. We had lunches, usually after our weekday sessions, and holiday parties at each other's homes. We attended graduation parties, summer barbeques, weddings, and yes, even funerals. Friendships were made that have lasted, all because a group wanted to do some artsy projects together. It was not the creative process that was nurtured; it was the friendships that endured.

Marlene O'Brien is a member of the Jottings group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.

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