By Margo Hammond
. . .
Six Wild Wacky Women
+ One Monthly Creative Challenge
= Six Ways of Seeing
. . .
They call themselves The Wild Wacky Women Club. Meeting on the third Thursday of each month, six women, alternating among their houses in Seminole, Largo, Clearwater and Palm Harbor, meet to accept a creative challenge.
The monthly challenges are sometimes straightforward. Create a self-portrait using the medium of your choice, for example. Often they are, well, wacky. Make a work of art using a dryer sheet. Or produce something beautiful using a pressed metal tile.
One month a member distributed six plain, black bags and challenged the others to make a Wild Wacky Women tote bag out of them. Another month a member dared the others to come up with a design for their family coat of arms.
This month 36 works of art by Davida Milne, Bia Englert, Dana Maley, Joanne Baxter, Sandy Kennedy and Cathy Simms — the result of six of those WWW Club challenges — are on display at the East Lake Community Library in Palm Harbor through March 31. Entitled Six Ways of Seeing Things, the show includes the self-portrait, the dryer sheet, the metal pressed tiles, the tote bag and the family coat of arms challenges as well as a sixth dare – come up with a piece of Abstract Expressionism.
Each piece shows the uniqueness of each artist, which is the whole point of the WWW Club. We’re not competitive,” says Maley who lives in Largo. “It’s a fun thing.”
Maley, who has worked for 30-plus years as a financial advisor for Morgan Stanley, says the group has been her therapy. “It’s the total opposite of what I did at work, which is why it’s been good. I look forward to it every month.”
I first heard about the Wild Wacky Women’s Club from Joanne Baxter who recently attended my Art of the Collage class at Eckerd College for the Osher Lifelong Living Institute (OLLI). I noticed she had brought along a small notebook filled with collaged images and I asked her about it. When she said it was one of the Wild Wacky Women’s monthly challenges, I was intrigued.
She then showed me the result of another monthly challenge – a self-portrait she had done totally with collage. She had used a photograph of herself as a general outline and then collaged bits of paper to create her skin texture and hair. For the eyes she had cut out a pair from a magazine. I began to wonder, why aren’t there more of these Wild Wacky Women Clubs? This looks like a lot of fun.
The group is limited to six members (“just enough to fit around a dining room table,” says Baxter who lives in Clearwater). There’s always a waiting list. When someone dies or drops out, the remaining members vote on a replacement. “They’ve gotten really picky. It has to be by unanimous consent,” laughs Maley.
The women bring their own lunch to the meetings. The host offers dessert. The host also is the one who offers the next challenge — and she often offers mini-workshops. Like the time they used silver crayons to fuse grocery bags, fabric and yarn to make clutch purses. Or the day they decorated napkins with encaustic wax. “We kind of jam a lot in,” says Baxter.
The group often meets outside the monthly session, planning trips to museums and exhibits (the “Wackies,” as Maley calls the women, last year went to Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith: Flowers, Poetry, and Light at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota. Maley and Milne went together to see the Gio Swaby exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. The latter ended up inspiring Maley’s choice for her self-portrait challenge.
“I’m not a person who likes to do a self-portrait,” Maley admits. “Doing faces are hard.” So she decided to “paint” her portrait with thread à la Swaby. “I took a photograph of myself, traced it onto tissue paper and stitched the basic lines. I thought the toughest part was going to be the eyes, but it was the mouth that was the hardest.”
Ironically the most challenging challenge for Maley was one of her own – write a haiku and illustrate it. “I had no problem writing — I wrote five haikus — but the challenge was illustrating it. It wasn’t until 4 days before the deadline that I finished that challenge. And it was mine!”
The finished collage piece, bordered with clovers, features an ice cream truck surrounded by repeated images of a girl on a bicycle from behind with her legs stretched straight out. The images, Maley explained, evoked scenes from her childhood, as did the haiku.
. . .
Weaving clover crowns
Faint call of the
ice cream truck
Fly fast on my bike
Many of the members met at the Tampa Bay Surface Design Guild, a group that promotes such creative processes as dyeing, painting, printing, stitching, embellishing, quilting, weaving, knitting, felting, beading, basket making, polymer clay, crochet and paper making. Others are quilters who met at the Suncoast Quilting Circle.
It was a quilter, in fact, who started and named the Wild Wacky Women Club. In 2004 or so, Janie Roberts, who lives in Feather Sound, decided she wanted to break away from the traditional parameters of quilt making and, well, go a little wild and wacky.
She convinced some other fellow quilters to meet monthly to challenge each other to do something out of the box with their quilts. The group (back then it was open to anyone who wanted to join) soon branched out and began to challenge each other to do other creative projects beyond quilting. The group also began to ask members to write down how they came to create the piece that was based on the challenge.
When Roberts was challenged to create a piece based on her spirit animal, for example, Roberts wrote that she had decided to go with a composite image of a bird atop a dog. “I am a loyal golden retriever that is a faithful companion, who loves to spend time with family and friends, but also relishes sitting in a comfy chair reading a book or taking a nap. I also think part of me is a bird. I want to climb to the Sun and twirl in the sky. So… I guess I am a bird-dog.”
Challenged to take a new look at a classical work, Roberts chose to reimagine Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream by collaging screaming faces she found in magazines in a notebook – and giving them goofy captions like “My golf game was cancelled” or “We will NEVER double date.”
“I wanted my viewers to laugh instead of feeling sad or melancholy,” she wrote in her summary of the experience. “It was a hoot adding oddball quips to fearful faces.”
“I have many fond memories of past members and meetings,” says Davida Milne who is the only original member still left in the Wild Wacky Women Club. Despite all the turnover, however, the spirit of the creative group clearly seems to remain the same.
“Every time we get together and challenge each other, it’s incredible how different people respond,” says Maley. “I’m constantly saying, ‘Wow, I’d never thought of doing that.’”