I come from a really large family. My mom is one of 5 kids and my dad is one of 12 kids. (Yep, that’s not a typo, you just read that right…twelve kids!) All of them had their own kids, then their kids had kids…so, you do the math! Family reunions for us are more like small village festivals! But all kidding aside, one of the areas I’ve been really fortunate in life is having grandparents, aunts and uncles who have done a lot of research on our family’s history and genealogy. These stories from the past really help me understand where I come from, and have made me discover that creativity really does run in the family. I’m calling this post, “It Runs in the Family – Part 1” because I’d like to include a few different posts in this series highlighting some of my relatives that have truly inspired me.
This first post is dedicated to my Great-Grandma Amy Rowe (on my mother’s side of the family) and her amazing gift for creativity. This time of year often reminds me of her love for handmade items, which were sought-after at craft fairs in this area.
Amy Rowe (Bucher) was born in the spring of 1912 in North Lake, WI to Danish farmers – my great-great grandparents. Growing up on a farm in the middle of the Great Depression was tough, but it taught great-grandma the skill sets she used her entire life – being resourceful was very important during her childhood and that carried on into adulthood.
She was fortunate enough to be sent into Milwaukee to live with another Danish family where she attended 4 years of high school and learned Latin & Math. This was considered to be very fortunate for a woman in this time period.
After graduation, she met & married my great-grandfather, Earl Rowe, who was a farmer and also, an excellent welder. At first they lived on a farm in North Lake, later moving more permanently to a farm in the town of Oconomowoc. (My aunt & uncle bought that farm and still live there today!) They raised 3 children, a girl and two boys – one of which is my Grandpa Lee Rowe (or Papa Ole as we “affectionately” call him.)
My great-grandma’s love for creating things stemmed from when she was younger, but ultimately came in real handy as a farmer’s wife & mother of three. She was gifted in sewing and mending especially, but had a love for all things art & craft related. The dining room table was often covered in various projects she had going on simultaneously, and she even converted her front dining room into a small sewing and crafting corner with dresser drawers she handmade using cardboard and old knobs.
She would often cut out ideas she saw for craft or sewing projects, and paste them inside old copies of LIFE magazines, serving as a scrapbook of sorts. She could see a picture of something in a book or magazine and often re-create it using her own imagination. Here’s an example of a felt 3-dimensional star that she made pasting together bits of cardboard, then hand-stitching small pieces of felt together. So incredible!
She was also good at creating items on demand. When her daughter, my great-aunt Gladys, requested she make a keepsake item to commemorate the anniversary of her first date with her husband at a coffee shop called the Purple Hippo, this is what she came up with! He’s almost too cute for words!
And it seems like she was often a trendsetter with the items she did choose to make and sell at the area craft fairs. Here is an example of a handmade cotton tree that she made.
One of my favorite designers, Joanna Gaines, from Magnolia Farms & Marketplace, actually sells these same handmade cotton trees on her website for $9.00! Way to go Granny in being ahead of your time in style! Here’s a link to see Joanna’s version.
Even at an old age, she still loved to continue to learn and grow in her knowledge for different forms of art. She would often take art education classes in Madison, learning new techniques for crafting or expressionism.
Overall, I am just blown away at the amount of talent that came from my great-grandma Rowe. She was incredibly gifted and I am very fortunate to still have several items that she made for me as a child. Handmade dresses, dolls, wall hangings, quilts…I cherish them as they continue to remind me of her. She was the one who taught me to sew. She taught me to let my creativity be my guide.
It was a sad time for our family when she was diagnosed with Acute Lympho Blastic Leukemia back in 1996. By the time the doctors discovered she had it, they gave her only 2 months to live. At 84 years old, she died peacefully at her own home, surrounded by the family that loved her most.
The winter after she passed, the local bazaar that she managed for her church every year, dedicated the craft fair in her memory. She had invested so many countless hours into making sure the items sold there were unique, well-made and authentic. Just like the qualities of great-grandma, I hope the items I create for my own shop can somehow measure up.