Not only is there a lot of fiber in Brenda Klein’s diet — but it’s also in her artwork.
Brenda has been what she calls a “fiber artist” for the past 50 years. Originally from Grand Rapids, MI, she and her husband Randy moved down to Texas five years ago to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren.
Brenda said they didn’t leave everything behind in Michigan when they made the move though. Both of them brought their own particular art specialty with them, including Randy’s woodworking and Brenda’s sewing and painting.
“She has painted and quilted over 1,027 pieces,” Randy stated. “I made the frames for each of them.”
“We’ve always had our interests that kept us together,” Brenda expressed. “We’ve always built things together. We even designed floor plans of our home we built in Michigan. We had to sacrifice a lot in order to be with family down here.”
But beyond the quilts and paintings, Brenda faces a personal obstacle that’s invisible to the naked eye. She’s deaf in both of her ears, and Randy serves as her personal American Sign Language interpreter.
“I was the bridge for people who got confused around her,” Randy explained. “Very seldom have we ever been apart - maybe three days.”
LOVE AT FIRST RAINDROP
Although she hasn’t been able to hear anything for the past 20 years, Brenda explained that she wasn’t born deaf. She recalled that she was a 17-years-old high school student when she learned that something was wrong.
“I was diagnosed with a hereditary bone disease in my ear,” she explained. “It’s a progressive disease. I started to lose my hearing.”
Although the news was devastating to hear, Brenda was able to find solace in some extracurricular activities that alleviated her stress.
She immersed herself in an art form called “sun-printing,” where she used sunlight as a fixative agent to preserve patterns on canvas. Brenda explained that she used plants for her particular artistry.
“They’re prepared and flattened, and I apply color to the fabric,” she explained. “And while the paint is still wet, I place my pressed plants on there and they go out under the sunlight to dry.
Brenda later went to study interior design at a small Grand Rapids art school called Kendall College of Art and Design. Brenda recalled there being about 350 students at the school.
One of them was Randy, the man who would later become her husband. He nicknamed her “Raindrop” for her love of nature.
“I gave that nickname to her 50 years ago,” Randy mused. “Every piece of art she has done since then has a little raindrop on it.”
ASL AND ART SHOWS
Randy and Brenda got married during their second year at the school. Brenda said she noticed her hearing was worsening during that time.
“I got my first hearing aid right after we were married,” she said. “We knew it was going to keep progressing.”
Randy said he resolved to adapt to her condition before it worsened even further. He took her to an ASL class where they were both taught how to communicate with sign language.
“If I wanted to communicate with her, I needed to sign,” he explained. “I still need to practice my signing a lot.”
After they graduated, Randy and Brenda hit the market and held exhibits at fine art shows throughout the Midwest. Brenda said they toured for 15 years before calling it quits.
“We only did fine art shows because her artwork was very expensive,” Randy stated. “We got burned out traveling, staying in hotels, eating food. It was exhausting.”
Brenda said it was a nice change of pace to slow down after traveling non-stop year after year. But during that time her hearing gradually worsened from mild to moderate to an eventual total loss.
She lost her hearing entirely by the time she moved to Texas in 2014.
Even though they don’t tour anymore and participate in art shows, Randy and Brenda still very much like to create and collaborate together. Their home has an art studio where Brenda makes her crafts and Randy frames them. They also make their own fiber bars and seasoned pretzels, which they sell at the Downtown Farmer’s Market during their regular season.
They call their business Raindrop Studios.
“She’s cooking all week long,” Randy chuckled. “It’s like the Ying and the Yang. She does the healthy food, and I do the pretzels.”
Even before Randy got involved with baking with Brenda, he made a point to be there with her every day she had a booth open at the market. He said he wanted to be there for her to help communicate between herself and new customers.
“If you were looking at her, you would never know she was deaf,” Randy explained. “But if she turns her head and somebody’s asking her a question, they think she’s being rude for not answering.”
Brenda said she’s grateful for everything that Randy does for her, adding that she’s only as successful as she is because she’s got a great partner behind her.
“There are a lot of husbands out there who wouldn’t have done that, who wouldn’t have gone through those classes,” she said. “That’s one thing about Randy that has always been special. He has always supported me.”