Craftmaker cops an ‘attitude'

The right attitude has kept the 94-year-old Odd Fellows resident churning out new works.

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At 94, Lucille Nelson refuses to stop creating crafts, and spends a lot of her time in her studio, which is a converted second bedroom in her Odd Fellows apartment.

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Many of the residents at Odd Fellows make use of the center's Mud Hut, a pottery studio equipped for bisque painting and firing. Close to half the items on the table were painted by Lucille Nelson, including the wolf head.

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The intricate dress pattern on the figurine was created by working a wet porcelain mixture into lace clothing, draping the cloth over the figurine and then firing it in a kiln. During the the firing process, the cloth burns away and leaves behind the hardened porcelain in the original lace pattern.

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This year's Odd Fellows Holiday Bazaar sale on Friday and Saturday included a collection of roughly 120 donated dolls, the majority made of porcelain. The dolls were a gift by collector Nancy McCann of Walla Walla to the residents of Odd Fellows. A number of the residents received dolls as gifts, while the majority of the delicate porcelain dolls were sold at the bazaar to raise money for resident activities, such as buying entertainment tickets and supplies for arts and crafts.

WALLA WALLA - Lucille Nelson might have the answer for those seeking a long and healthy life, but it has nothing to do with doing nothing.

"If I am not painting, I am knitting or sewing or reading. This is how come I am 94 years old," Nelson said, taking a break from yet another one of her crafts - baking brownies for the family.

Odd Fellows Activity Director Kayla Kirk has encouraged residents to keep busy, knowing that usefulness is key to keeping older populations healthy.

Nelson takes that advice to new boundaries.

"She's incredible," Kirk said, as she pointed out the numerous items Nelson had made and donated to help raise money for resident activities at the Odd Fellows Holiday Bazaar on Friday and Saturday.

The artisan responsible for the works was rather humble about her prolific works over the years.

Kirk estimated that in Nelson's 10-year residency at Odd Fellows, the old but still strong pair of hands have made well over a thousand different craft items.

A quick tour of Nelson's apartment revealed close to 100 of them, including knitted caps, decorative signs, hand-painted mugs, knitted tapestries, dozens of hand-painted bisque statues and a collection of highly treasured lace-draped porcelain figurines.

There were 27 of them in a curio cabinet in Nelson's living room of her two-bedroom apartment.

All but one figurine looked as if they had been clothed in lace dresses; it turned out those frocks were hardened porcelain.

The technique, Nelson explained, requires saturating the lace fabric with a wet porcelain mixture, then firing the figurines in a kiln. During the process, the cloth burns away, leaving behind an intricate porcelain lace pattern.

The entire process, including the hand painting after, takes about 30 hours.

The reason she doesn't make them anymore is because she doesn't have the space to store them, and working the cold liquid porcelain into the lace leaves her hands stiff.

Of course, there was that one porcelain doll that lacked a lace draping.

"This doesn't belong here," Nelson said, reaching for the mostly naked figurine to tuck it away in a drawer.

"That was my husband's favorite doll. He wanted me to make it and put a bikini on it," Nelson said.

Always willing to rise to a challenge, she did put just a skimpy bikini on the little figurine, except she forgot to put on the top half.

"He didn't want a top on it. My son keeps taking it out," she added, explaining how the figure got to a visible spot on the curio shelf. Then she dropped the topless lady in a drawer and closed it.

It would be easy to label Nelson as just another prolific craft-making elder. But as you speak with the 94-year-old who converted her extra bedroom into a studio, and can still tell you exactly how she applied several layers of patina to achieve the desired look on dozens of hand-painted statutes throughout her apartment, you begin to realize there is more to this artist than just the need to create.

"‘Attitude is everything,' I think that that is what it is all about," Nelson said.

It is an adage she has lived by most of her life, and one that was tested greatly about a year ago when Nelson suffered a stroke.

After the attack, she realized she had been slowed down quite a bit in her craft making.

At the time, she had already committed herself to knitting 50 caps for a local charity by Christmas. About 25 had been completed before the stroke. After, when she tried to knit a single row, it took 20 minutes.

"I thought that was fine. I am able to do it. And so I knitted a little bit everyday," she said.

It turned out that along with traditional physical therapy, her doctors affirmed that knitting, counting and even playing Jenga are all good for stroke recovery. So she did them all, and all 50 caps got knitted in time for last Christmas.

Today, Nelson says she has recovered about 90 to 95 percent of her crafty old speed.

"I am just an ordinary person that wants to enjoy the last of my years and not be a vegetable, and I think you have to do what the doctor says, and what the therapist says, and have a good attitude about it," she said.

Perhaps another key to Nelson's secret of a long and healthy life is that she is still willing to try something new.

At a time when most artisans would simply rely on the proven, Nelson isn't afraid to take on a new craft like digital photography, which she started about a year ago. So far, the hardest part has been trying to master the newfangled printer, which also copies, faxes, scans and would leave most people bewildered.

"That's what's important. You have to have a challenge. If you don't, you are bored. But that printer, it intimidates me," she said.

Of course, there are some areas where she refuses to take on new devices, especially when cooking her tradition German foods like homemade rye bread.

"I told my kids when bread machines first came out, I absolutely do not want one," Nelson said.

So she still makes it the old-fashioned way, mixing and kneading it by hand. The same way she does all the other handmade items she makes.

After all, they are what keep her going, along with her attitude.

"For myself, I see something I like and I make it ... attitude is everything."

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