Milton woman takes pride in creating original Christmas cards
MILTON Many people are content to buy Christmas cards by the box, sign their names and mail them to friends and family.
Estella Fena would never think of such a thing.
Each of the cards she sends is a small gift, born out of creativity and love.
For 37 years, the Milton woman has been designing her own cards and finding the right Bible verses or poems to put inside. The small works of art began as simple watercolors, and she hand-painted every card. Later, Estella used acrylics, and her designs became more elaborate.
Eventually, she took her paintings to a professional printer to produce her original greetings.
This year's card features a red barn with corn shocks and pheasants in a snow-covered field. In years past, Estella has painted a great-horned owl, a round barn and a log cabin. Her country scenes often grow from childhood memories. Many include a church, children or a farm.
On her 50th wedding anniversary, Estella painted a couple, arm-in-arm, walking near a forested stream. The woman wore a yellow coat, much like the one that Estella wore after her marriage to her husband, Lyman.
Much care and skill are reflected in Estella's one-of-a-kind art. But the talented artist is equally concerned about the quality of the writing that goes inside.
"The words are as important as the artwork," Estella said.
She often scours old issues of Ideals magazines for inspiring poetry. Last year, she found a poem that moved her, and the art came later.
At 75, Estella has been painting almost her entire life. A friend taught her how to create with oils 40 years ago. She also took classes with a local artist. Many of her pieces hang on the walls of her home.
Estella calls painting "like a love affair."
"You live it while you create it," she said. "If you try to re-create a painting, there's a lack of emotion."
As a child, Estella learned from her grandmother that the best things about Christmas come from the heart. Estella's grandmother made huge batches of German kuchen or cake for neighbors and friends.
"She never had anything her whole life, but she always gave so much," Estella recalled. "Christmas is about remembering people—the ones who are alive and those who have passed. Christmas is about family and enjoying each other's company. This is a time to show your love."
People who receive Estella's cards appreciate them.
Her great-aunt could only take one box of belongings with her when she moved into a nursing home, and she filled the box with Estella's cards.
For almost 20 years, Susan Schultz of Janesville has been looking forward to Estella's annual greeting. The women met in a drawing class in 1994.
"I can't wait every year to get her card in the mail," Susan said. "You can't help but treasure them. I have kept all of them."
Susan is a fellow artist who also makes her own Christmas cards. Most of the cards she has sent to Estella are original watercolors.
"When you make cards yourself, you really appreciate the process," Susan said.
"It is labor intensive. Getting something that someone has worked hours on is priceless."