Handmade: Art-loving ‘sisters’ inspired by spirit

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News
Uniquely different “pole dolls” made by members of the “Spirit Sisters.”

Every Friday morning, for the past 11 years, a small group of talented women gather inside a studio at the Elle Sharp Museum of Art and History in Jackson for several hours of “creative mischief.”

“We meet at the museum from 9 a.m.-12 p.m., then we go out and have lunch together. That’s the highlight of our week. It has become a very close-knit group of loving, supporting friends,” says Stephanie Kolman, 75, one of the founding members of the Spirit Sisters, who describe themselves as “an experimental art group of six women.”

Their artists’ statement reads, in part: “The need for sales, exhibitions, competitions and approval has been replaced by sharing, experimenting, and encouraging each other into the creative world of ‘dare to be different and loving it.’ ”

Their meetings sometimes include workshops, demonstrations and guest artists/speakers. For instance, they recently had a woman show them her way for creating altered books. However, “at this stage” in their lives, they’re not about learning new techniques, but finding ways to continue fulfilling that sense of creativity they’ve always felt and pursued as adults.

“There is that special creative spirit that you feel as a group of artists working together,” explains Kolman, stressing that such a feeling can only be had within a small group. “We’ve had many requests from people to join us, but it wouldn’t work with more people because people would start splitting off, and the room is small. Even now, sometimes it’s hard to hear what others are saying, that’s why we have a ‘show and tell,’ and then it’s on to the project of the day.”

The “Spirit Sisters” are (from left, front) Carol Stygles, Maki Braun, Edie Gilbert, (back row) Barb Markowski, Stephanie Kolman and Lynne Loftis.

Each member, brings her own expertise to the group. Members include Maki Braun (Jerome), who does altered art; Carol Stygles (Jackson), a weaver who also hand-dyes fabric; Barb Markowski (Parma), a quilter; Edie Gilbert (Jackson), an art teacher and dollmaker; Lynne Loftis (Jackson), a fabric artist and former director of the Elle Sharp Museum, and Kolman, a 30-year water colorist, who now enjoys making dolls and doll-like gourd sculptures.

Other projects include felted hats, metal work, origami, zentangle, pop-up cards and books, clay work, paper teapots, embossing, stamping, drawing, and more.

For even more fun, they sometimes go on field trips to events and/or places like an art show at Eastern Michigan University, an old paper factory in Chelsea, and antique and recycling shops with “all kinds of wonderful junk,” perfect for reconstructing into art pieces.

Their many group activities and creative energy keeps members closely connected. Markowski, 65, who’s been part of the group the past 21/2years, says, “I like the sisterhood, the fellowship, the sharing – both personal and artistically, and just the bond that we have together as friends and artists.”

And because they’ve held their meetings for so many years at the Elle Sharp Museum, never missing a single Friday, Kolman says they’ve been given their own window to display current projects. There latest is what she calls “pole dolls.” She says, “I was flipping through an old Art Doll magazine and came across an article by Susan Hyde in the May/June/July 2013 issue. It seemed simple enough with unlimited possibilities, so (I) presented it to the group. ... As always, it was a joy and delight to see how differently creative minds work from the same starting point.”

Every year, these spirited “sisters” celebrate Christmas with a party at one of their homes, where they exchange gifts they made. What a fun-loving and inspiring group of artists!

Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150 or

Contact the Spirit Sisters at (517) 750-9349.