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The Verve: Handmade is way to show love for Elise Bozzo

Elise Bozzo, a lifelong crafter, sits in front of one of her seven trees, this one covered with dolls she’s made or traded for over many decades. (Jesse Tinsley)
Elise Bozzo, a lifelong crafter, sits in front of one of her seven trees, this one covered with dolls she’s made or traded for over many decades. (Jesse Tinsley)

Elise Bozzo will blush if you call her an artist.

“I call myself a craftsperson,” she said. “I’ve never purchased a gift from a big store; either I make something or I purchase something that someone I know has made.”

She also blushes when you walk around her Spokane Valley home and ooh and aah over the multitude of handmade items displayed. She’ll apologize and ask you to excuse the clutter, but of course it isn’t clutter at all. Rather, it’s evidence of a life dedicated to the concept of “handmade with love.”

Bozzo, 74, was born and raised in Canada. Her mother taught her to knit and crochet and, in the seventh grade, she took a basic sewing class. In her early 30s, her husband gave her a sewing machine. The couple moved to California, where she went to school to become a critical care nurse. She worked full time in that field for more than 25 years.

“Making things was my relaxation therapy,” she said. “Working in critical care was an intense job and I needed a release.”

Bozzo started making things in earnest in her mid-30s. She took classes in basic basketry, off loom weaving and spinning. Soon, she was teaching a class in knitted sculptures called “happi-kites.” When one of her teachers introduced her to doll-making, she joined a club and began participating in exchanges. She also started selling her dolls and fiber items through a local art association and at holiday boutiques. She joined other doll clubs, and her collection grew.

After Bozzo retired in 2004, she took her first fiber arts class at a local college. Shortly after that, she and her husband moved to the Spokane area to be close to family. Since moving here, she has participated in Art on Broadway and a couple of Christmas fairs.

“A few years back, I was at a Christmas craft fair at a high school,” she said. “The man next to me had holiday dolls at a pretty low price. He had cut off the ‘Made in China’ tags and sewed his own in. That was the extent of the work he put into it. I can’t compete with that.”

Still, she carries on simply because she loves doing it, and it shows.

In early November, she started putting her trees up; seven tall ones and a handful of small ones. Each tree is decorated with hundreds of dolls made by her or members of her doll clubs. Every tree is themed – Santas, snowmen, teddy bears, Raggedy Anns and Andys, angels, patriotic figures, and vintage ornaments. Walking around the trees, you cannot help but want to touch everything, studying the faces and fine details. She also displays trees for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Fourth of July and Halloween.

Making dolls, ornaments, art quilts, and felted and silk-fused wall hangings doesn’t only make Bozzo an artist; she carries a torch, keeping the true meaning of “handmade with love” alive.

“It’s so personal,” she said. “I remember the stories behind every handmade item.”

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