Art has a funny way of connecting us, sometimes in unexpected ways. And in this age of social and physical distancing, our relationships with other humans are more important than ever. 

As an artist, I don’t know what I would do without my art community. Aside from drawing, interacting with other artists might be one of the most important things I do for my artistic development and mental well-being.

If you don’t have an in-person critique group (or even if you do), online art communities can be a great source of feedback and support. Artists need a safe space for sharing their progress—our struggles and successes as well as our failures. There are some things that only fellow artists can genuinely understand. 

And because online groups are not limited by geography, you might even meet someone you would have never crossed paths with in real life. Or, in the case of Samantha Hoffman and Vandy Major, reconnect with a childhood friend you lost touch with over 60 years ago.

The Kids on Kevin Place

Samantha and Vandy lived on the same block in Toledo, Ohio (Kevin Place) until 1961, when Vandy’s family moved to the suburbs. Vandy was 10 years old, and Samantha was 12. 

From the far left: Samantha, Samantha’s sister, two neighbourhood friends, and Vandy. Vandy is still friends with the girl second from right.

“My parents were quite a bit older than the other parents on the block … They didn’t stay in touch after the Major’s moved, and I never heard about [Vandy] or saw her ever again,” Samantha shared when she and Vandy sat down with our Marketing Officer, for an interview.

Samantha with her mother and sister, Bunny, in 1957.
 

Samantha and Bunny, 1957.

In the 50s, it was common for neighbourhood kids to play outside by themselves until after dark. So, the kids on the block all knew each other.

“We played marbles in the alley behind the house. [We had] roller skates—the old style with the key,” Vandy recalls. “Of course bicycles. I remember the first time I rode my two-wheeler; I was so proud. I made it three doors down, and Samantha and her sister were going, ‘YAY!!! Vandy!!! SHE’S DOING IT!!!!’ It was one of those moments that stays with you forever.”

Samantha painted this portrait of her childhood home on Kevin Place where she and Vandy both lived during an Etchr Studio workshop in April 2021.

“We used to play lots of games [like] kick the can.” Samantha also told us about a game they made up called “Sloppy Joes,” in which the girls chased the boys. If a boy were caught, he would have to go in between the houses and kiss his captor. 

Samantha once caught a particularly cute neighbourhood boy. “We went between the houses, and he said, ‘Fake it, or I’ll pound you.’” She laughs, “I didn’t know what he meant by that, but I knew I wasn’t going to get kissed!”

Samantha and Vandy played together on their neighbourhood block as kids, but they didn’t cross paths at school. It wasn’t until they reconnected through the Etchr Studio Fam Facebook group this year that they learned of their shared lifelong interest in art.

Samantha painting at the kitchen table when she was 16 (1965).

Vandy credits the Toledo Museum of Art—where they took field trips and art classes—for inspiring and encouraging them to create from an early age.

Time Apart

So what have Vandy and Samantha been up to for the last 61 years?

Vandy Major, Present Day

Vandy got a Bachelor’s degree in Drawing and Painting from Ohio State University. She sold some of her paintings as an independent artist. Still, after getting married and having a son, she wanted to provide more financial stability for her family. 

Vandy and her son 

She worked in sales for 25 years. After the death of her husband 15 years ago, she retired and moved to Florida to return to a creative lifestyle. Vandy didn’t know how to make a living with her drawing and painting, but her knowledge of what makes a good image paved the way for a photography career

Samantha Hoffman, present day.

Samantha, coincidentally, also went into sales—first at a printing company and then for a textbook publisher. She was married and divorced three times and is the mother of an adorable cat named Bailey.

Over the years, she continued to sketch and paint—and has always been a writer. Before the publication of her first novel, What More Could You Wish For (St. Martin’s Press, 2012), she couldn’t find a profitable avenue for her art. 

Samantha and Bailey

Discovering Etchr 

A lot has happened in the time Samantha and Vandy spent apart, and they’ve both moved away from their home state of Ohio. But one thing that hasn’t changed is their deep connection to art that led them to Etchr. 

A few years ago, Vandy was interested in doing some tracings from her phone screen and bought the Etchr Mirror, a total game-changer. Soon, she started noticing ads for Etchr workshops. 

Self Portrait using the Etchr Mirror by V. Major, 2019.

Meanwhile, Samantha was always intimidated by watercolour, but an online class she took during the pandemic motivated her. Her interest in watercolour painting led her to Etchr Studio in February. She has been taking workshops, sharing her work in the Facebook community, and painting daily ever since.

Watercolour paintings by S. Hoffman, 2021.

An Unexpected Reunion

It was actually one of Samantha’s watercolour paintings posted to the Facebook group that brought the childhood friends back together. 

“I made a comment about it … apologizing for it, and then I see a comment from Vandy Major, and it was so kind. And she said, ‘it’s beautiful, and you should maybe try this, but it’s lovely.’ It was such a nice comment. And I said, ‘Thank you. But did you grow up in Toledo? We just freaked out because it’s been more than 60 years since we’ve been in touch.”

Currently, both Vandy and Samantha like to draw and sketch, and they’re both learning watercolour techniques from Etchr Studio Workshops. They love the accessibility of the workshops, the way they are structured, and the ability for students to share work and give feedback through the Etchr Studio Facebook group. “I find it such a supportive community,” Samantha says. 

Vandy recently got the Etchr Mini Palette. She has also started painting Etchr Postcards and packaging them into sets to send to friends and family. Vandy says she believes in constant encouragement, and that’s one thing she loves about sharing her work with fellow Etchr students.

Portrait of Carolyn by V. Major, 2019

The Future of Their Friendship

So what’s next for Samantha and Vandy? Will they meet up in person one day soon? 

“I think we will,” Samantha assured us. She has a friend who lives near Vandy in Florida and already had plans to visit her this winter.

Vandy is looking forward to it and hopes to meet up with local artists from the Etchr Studio Fam Facebook group, similar to the Urban Sketchers. “We could be the Etchr Sketchers!” she proposes.

Art has a funny way of connecting us, sometimes in unexpected ways. Thanks to their connection to art, and their involvement with the Etchr community, these two women can pick up their friendship right where they left off – 61 years later.

“The real cherry on the top is I found my childhood friend,” Vandy says. “How does that happen? That’s one in a million.” 

Etchr would like to thank Samantha and Vandy for sharing their story and inspiring us to make more art and share it. You never know what might happen!

Interview of Samantha and Vandy with Etchr

Kristin Wauson is a children’s book author/illustrator and certified yoga teacher based in Austin, Texas. Her debut picture book, MR. THATCHER’S HOUSE releases Fall 2022 (Sleeping Bear Press). She’s a wife, mother of two boys, a chocolate lab and a dragon (a bearded dragon, that is). When she’s not making picture books, drawing or painting, she can usually be found creating something in the kitchen instead. She is represented by Adria Goetz at Martin Literary Management.

Comments

  • Bev Hoffman-Rush said:

    My sister Sam sent me the article, I loved it so much. To see our childhood friends in those pictures thrilled me. Brings back the good times we had, simpler times. Oh how I wish things were still like that. Today, things are uncertain, so reading this article makes me feel so good, so maybe there is hope yet. I’m so glad my sister and Vandy reconnected. Living in Kevin Place growing up, is always on my mind.

    July 25, 2021

  • Deborah Zimmerman said:

    I love this story!!! I’m Deborah the girl standing next to Vandy in the childhood picture. Vandy and I connected a few years back when my husband and I moved to Florida. Hopefully, I will soon connect with Samantha too!!

    July 20, 2021


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