Lee’s father, Bruce Hamler, was Rome’s city manager during a good chunk of its formative years, and she drew on his steady vision when she was elected to the City Commission last year.
But it’s her mother’s presence Lee feels when she wants to express her inner songs.
“My dad was the engineer. She was the creative stay-at-home mom,” Lee said. “She taught me to cross-stitch, and I learned to knit when I was very young. We did decoupage, gardening. ... I learned to cook. She let me try things out and make mistakes.”
While a teacher at Rome High School, Lee started knitting sweaters and shawls — and she has fond memories of setting up at the fledgling Chiaha in the 1960s.
In those days the available yarns were generally plain skeins of solid colors, so her offerings were a far cry from the intricate, exotic scarves and bags decorating her stall this year.
“Nowadays if you can get the basics down, the yarns do the work for you,” she said. “If you put the right textures and colors together, it kind of sings for you.”
Lee collects unusual yarns throughout the year, as they catch her eye, then puts them together in combinations uniquely her own. She’s also fascinated with vintage buttons and has come up with different ways to show them off.
Craft magazines give her starting points, she said, and her imagination takes off from there. “I saw someone made brooches out of vintage buttons, and I thought, ‘what about rings and earrings?’ Those were new for me this year,” Lee said. “Decorated papier mache boxes were selling well, and I had a lot of old Rome postcards, so I copied them and collaged them onto boxes for my ‘Remember When’ collection.”
The look was a natural for post-it note holders, so she added them to the line. Repurposed toy blocks, whimsically dubbed “city blocks,” also are part of the series.
Knitted bead bracelets, “done on really tiny needles,” Scrabble tile pendants and tiny birdhouse slide necklaces are among the other ideas she’s been devoting time to lately.
“My brother made me the birdhouse pieces, and I decorated them as part of the ‘Remember When’ series,” she said. “I’ll have those at Winter Art Market.”
The newly conceived arts and crafts bazaar — Georgia-made items only — was Dec. 2-3 at the Rome Civic Center.
Meanwhile, Lee’s also dreaming up some projects in her role as a city commissioner. She said her artistic bent is both a plus and a minus in government.
“I see things in the city of Rome I want to do, but I don’t know about support,” she said. “Some may be just a little too creative. I think outside the box.”
Lee’s very much interested in having an arts center in the city, she said, and a dog park is another quality-of-life proposal she supports.
“People love their dogs,” she said. “You can take them to Ridge Ferry Park, but they can’t run around and socialize there.”
The city is looking at property for a park, but it’s unlikely the funding could come out of the cash-strapped government budget. Lee said she’s talking to Floyd County Sheriff Tim Burkhalter about ways to tap the artistic talents of his jail inmates for a fundraiser.
The plans, if they come to fruition, could be a win for both local residents and the inmate volunteers, she said.
“I think it’s very important to have projects,” Lee said. “Everybody needs something that, when they wake up in the morning, they’re excited to do.”
All photos by Diane Wagner.