Book of Dreams: Freedom of creating art inspires women in community program

For years, The Sacramento Bee's holiday drive has sought to help those in need in the capital region. Today, we start a new series of tales of hope and generosity.

Linda Tiefenthaler used to spend much of her day on her sofa, reading and avoiding the financial, physical and mental hardships facing her.

She wasn’t eating much. She shuttered herself in her house, unaware of what was happening in the world.

Then came Women’s Wisdom Art, a low-cost community art program for women overcoming homelessness, violence, illness and abuse.

Tiefenthaler began taking ceramics, weaving and jewelry classes, and swiftly fell in love with molding and shaping clay into pieces of art.

Now, she spends more than 40 hours a week producing artwork. She’s participated in art shows and had a quilt she crafted on display in the Crocker Art Museum. She also teaches young people at Allied Ceramic Art Institute in Fair Oaks.

“Women’s Wisdom Art brought me out of my isolation,” she said. “It gave me something to wake up for. It really saved me.”

The nonprofit organization, while helping dozens of women find comfort and solace, has had a bumpy existence. It was founded in 1991 as part of Maryhouse, a shelter for homeless women and children, and later it was folded into the auspices of Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. In 2009, the food bank decided to focus on emergency services and funding to the art program was cut.

But the need continued. Last fall, the program reopened, offering six classes per week.

“Really, it was the women who convinced me to reopen,” said Helen Plenert, the program’s manager.

Donna Norris, a Women’s Wisdom Art supporter, has asked Book of Dreams readers to help purchase a color laser printer-scanner to help produce women’s art, including greeting cards. A large inventory of art supplies is also needed, Norris said.

It’s an invaluable program, said Constance King, a retired social worker whose daughter was referred to Women’s Wisdom Art. Both mother and daughter enjoy spending time in the comfortable, vibrant clubhouse at Max Baer Park in Sacramento.

“I was in and out of a lot of different programs during my career, but this one, in particular, is very good for women,” she said. “For many, it has changed their lifestyle. There’s just something about the unity that’s involved.”

The program has made a positive impact on her daughter, Mallory Knight, who has since begun taking courses at the Institute of Art and is aiming for a career in graphic design.

While Knight’s schooling is building her technical expertise, Women’s Wisdom Art provides something she wouldn’t get in a classroom.

“It feeds my spirit so I have the freedom to express myself,” she said.

Needed: Color laser printer-scanner, art and office supplies.

Total: $5,000.

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