Thank-you gift/gesture for someone who is downsizing
June 7, 2018 3:16 PM   Subscribe

A person I know is moving to a smaller place and is giving me a huge amount of very valuable, very awesome art-making equipment. In addition to thanking her profusely, of course, I'd like to do something nice for her, but I don't want to give a material gift because she and her husband are downsizing and moving to a progressive care/senior living type place. I'm looking to the hive mind for some brilliant and creative ideas! More details about the gift and our relationship within.

Background info, if you're interested:

I'm a fiber artist and belong to a local weaving guild. A while back, this woman contacted the guild because she has made handwoven bar/bat mitzvah shawls for all her grandchildren but had recently discovered that she had developed a vision problem that made it impossible for her to make the shawls for her two youngest grandchildren; she was hoping someone would be able to weave these for her and in exchange she would give the weaver her loom and the yarn, etc., to do the projects. I jumped at this and was the incredibly lucky recipient of not only a beautiful loom, but a ton of other weaving equipment and supplies (mostly new things in excellent condition - really, thousands of dollars worth of stuff). This was totally amazing but it's important to note that the absolute best part of it has been meeting this extremely cool and interesting woman and getting to know her and work with her on the design process for these weavings. She's awesome!!

Now, when I arrived to meet her for the first time, I learned that she is/was not only a weaver, but an accomplished artist in a variety of media (ceramics, printmaking, painting etc). We got to know each other a little because I have visited her a few times with samples and things as I've worked on her grandchildren's pieces (one is done; we're currently waiting on some backordered yarn for the second one). A month or two ago, she let me know that she and her husband (both in their early 80s) were looking into moving to this senior community place and that if it did happen, they would be downsizing in a major way and she would be getting rid of a lot more stuff (her art studio is an entire floor of her large home). During this conversation, I mentioned that if she decided to sell her kiln and other ceramics stuff to please let me know because my husband and I would probably be interested.

Today she let me know that their move is now in process and she's decided to gift us the kiln and her other ceramics equipment. As with the weaving equipment, this is VERY nice stuff all in wonderful condition and would cost thousands to purchase new. Although we have wanted to have a ceramics studio again for several years, we would not have been able to do furnish it (especially on this level) on our own for the foreseeable future, so this is a huge and life-changing gift for us. I genuinely think she wants to do this because she is such a generous, kind person; because she loves giving these things to people who will truly use and enjoy them; and also because she needs them out of her house now that she is downsizing. She is well off and doesn't care about making money by selling these items, and I guess no one in her family wants them - my husband and I are beyond fortunate to be the recipient of her incredible generosity.

Obviously, I plan to write her a letter attempting to express how much this means to us and how grateful we are. But I would love to do something else really nice for her, too. I just want her to know what a big deal this is and how much we appreciate it. The natural choice would normally be for me to make her something, but since she is in the middle of downsizing and is probably going to be giving away art she's had and loved for decades, that doesn't seem appropriate here to me. (Or maybe I'm wrong?? I mean I could make her a wearable item or a bag or something?) My other thought was wine or a gift certificate for a nice dinner out or something like that, but I don't have any clue about her and her husband's tastes in food, etc. I feel like something more meaningful and personal would be best anyway, but I just don't know what to do! I know they like to travel and recently went to Europe... they're both very involved with their synagogue and Jewish culture generally, but I am not Jewish so even though I've been involved in these religious weaving projects, I don't want to make a misstep by trying to do something that speaks to that. Thanks in advance for any ideas!!
posted by hansbrough to Grab Bag (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The best gift you can give her is to use the equipment to make beautiful things. She'll probably be feeling very sad at times that she can't use it and has had to give up that part of her life.

Allow her to create vicariously through you -- this is the greatest gift that someone who bestows tools upon someone else could ever receive.

The thank you note, of course, is essential, but beyond that: make stuff, and tell her about it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:26 PM on June 7 [28 favorites]

I think you're right not to go with something like sculpture, but a lap-sized throw is likely to be useful and unlikely to be burdensome.
posted by praemunire at 3:26 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]

This facility they're moving into - are they able to come and go independently? If not, the nicest gift you could give is to visit regularly. Now, and as they get older and slow down and don't get out as much. Maybe bring a sample of your work to show what you have made lately.
posted by evilmomlady at 3:31 PM on June 7 [30 favorites]

Membership to a local art museum or tickets to some kind of exhibit?
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 3:35 PM on June 7 [6 favorites]

I just downsized and ALL I WANT IS A DIGITAL FRAME FOR MY PICTURES and yet my kids did not do this for me, grumblegrumblegrumble.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:45 PM on June 7 [6 favorites]

I'm not trying to minimise your very good and earnest intentions, but I hope you will believe me when I say that knowing the stuff you love will go to an actual person who will value and use them is more than most of us even hope for. Not junked, not gathering dust in a shed, and not sold to a stranger with whom we've zero connection is a win. To gain a friend on top of all of that is like, the fucking dream.

You're good.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:47 PM on June 7 [20 favorites]

Make them some art with the art-making equipment they gave you.
posted by Rob Rockets at 3:53 PM on June 7

Make art for her that can be displayed on a wall, or make art and donate it to fundraisers that the causes she supports probably hold.
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:03 PM on June 7 [7 favorites]

I don’t know if this is traditional in either of your disciplines, but if you will be designing a maker’s mark or logo, you could work in an homage to her, like hiding her initials in it.
posted by lakeroon at 4:11 PM on June 7 [3 favorites]

moving is stressful and a little sad. i agree with the answer about visiting her, but what about something nice for her self-care, like a massage or a facial or a mani/pedi or something? maybe a day at a nice meditation retreat? nothing she has to bring home or tote about. experiences.
posted by koroshiya at 4:19 PM on June 7

I had an idea in mind when I started reading the comments, which was that you and your husband should take them out for a very nice dinner. But now I'm on Team Visit Often and Show Her Your Work.

Having been in a similar situation to your friend when I sold (at a very low price) my lucrative business to a talented and deserving professional, my joy derives from knowing that I've made a difference in his and his family's life and that he cherishes the company as much as I did. It's kind of a legacy thing.
posted by DrGail at 4:24 PM on June 7 [4 favorites]

I would do something nice as a both welcome-to-your-new-home and thanks-for-the-supplies gesture. Maybe a gift certificate to a restaurant nearby or a food delivery service. Won't clutter the home but will be appreciated and used. Maybe delivered with a potted plant or flowers they can put in their new home.
posted by AppleTurnover at 4:35 PM on June 7

First, heartfelt written thank you. Doesn't matter if you give them something or not. Whatever. They don't care about that.

Then, visit or call or write on a regular basis. Just keep in touch. Doesn't have to be every day or every week. It'll fall into a rhythm that works for you both. They sound like they'll be busy and still involved with family and friends so not like they'll be dependent on your visits. But, these are wonderful friends to you to have and keep and it sounds like they think the same of you.

I have elderly former clients who invite me once a year to their assisted living for coffee and homemade cookies. It's wonderful to see them and keep in touch and it's just the right amount of time together.
posted by Gnella at 4:45 PM on June 7 [3 favorites]

My mother is only a couple of years younger than them & she loves when people come & visit her. She has friends of all ages & so I'm team visit & talk to them about your life & what you're making. If they're tech savy, take them on as facebook friends & send them pictures of things you make or you using the equipment. A thank you note is always an appropriate response too.
posted by wwax at 4:48 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


They are not cheap (~$500), but I have one of the Meural digital frames and it is surprisingly compelling compared to the cheap $100 ones. Several people have thought it was an actual print at first during daylight until the content changed. For a reasonable fee, you can get a subscription to curated art collections for it.
posted by Candleman at 5:35 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]

I am downsizing, and I inwardly groan when someone gives me more stuff. I would especially not want a special handmade item that I would have to keep forever unless it were from my child or grandchild. I recently gave away a handmade scarf from a not very close friend. I agree with visiting her. But also, since you’ve already helped her with handmade gifts for grandchildren, could you make a standing offer of similar help if she needs something else like that for other grandchildren or possibly future great grandchildren?

If you must give something tangible, I agree that food delivery or restaurant gift certificates would be a good idea.
posted by FencingGal at 5:49 PM on June 7

Definitely the letter and the aforementioned visits.

It’s not clear from your text- she can’t use the look but can she still do ceramics or painting projects? Would it be possible to have a weekly/monthly standing appointment at your new studio where she could also work on something? I imagine it’s a great loss to give up those activities and creative outlet.
posted by raccoon409 at 7:31 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]

Visiting is probably the nicest possible thing you can do, or send her pictures of your work if she uses text or email. Another thought: does her synagogue or an associated cause ever have a gala/silent auction kind of thing? You could donate a piece of your work in her honor.
posted by MadamM at 7:38 PM on June 7 [3 favorites]

Yes, ask about her synagogue and get in touch with them about participating in any charity auctions or other art-related events that you could contribute to, and of course let her know if you're doing so.

In addition to visiting them where they are now, can you invite them to visit you for special occasions? There's this thing that's been happening for a while as families are more mobile and spread farther apart - elderly couples are left alone for a lot of holidays and celebrations that they'd like to join in if they didn't have to do stressful traveling for it. Maybe you have a regular July 4th picnic or a Halloween party or whatever and they would love to be invited? It's so nice to be at a gathering of friends and meet all kinds of folks who I wouldn't otherwise meet like that.

It sounds like you won't feel like your obligation is handled until you gift her something kind of concrete and finite, so although an ongoing friendship and all is nice it will still bother you. So maybe a gift in her name to charity, like a local art program for kids?
posted by Mizu at 8:27 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much for all the responses so far. You guys are giving me lots of great ideas and helping with my mental framework, too - it really helps to hear from those who are downsizing and really, truly don't want any stuff, and it also helps to hear from everyone reiterating that actually using the gifts well and keeping her in the loop on that/maintaining a relationship is the probably what she would enjoy the most moving forward. I was planning on that anyway and hope I will be able to stay friends with her for many years to come! But I wasn't really thinking of that in terms of how to thank her since honestly I get so much out of every interaction I have with her. She is just so special and wonderful and a unique, awesome lady. She always shares wisdom and insight with me every time we talk.

Anyway! To answer some questions that have come up - the place they are going has levels of care, but they will be starting in independent living. Although they're in their 80s, they're both in excellent health and don't have any major/debilitating problems. They're going to this place before it becomes necessary to make it easier on themselves when and if they do require more care in the future. She will have access to an art studio at the new community and continue to do her painting work for sure. It's a very upscale community with lots and lots of activities and facilities for residents. I've invited her a couple of times to come to my house to see her loom in its new environment and see our collaborative project in progress, and she didn't want to do that. I think she's just more comfortable in her own space. I love the idea of inviting her over to do art, but I'm not sure a standing invite here (although she has an open invitation!!) would work on her end. I will definitely visit her though. And I'll make sure she knows she has a standing offer for me to make anything she decides she wants for herself or her family along the lines of woven textiles, etc.

I *love* the idea of donating a piece in her honor to a charity auction or similar at her synagogue. I'll do some investigating and see if they have anything like that or look for another appropriate charity that might have something. That's great because it recognizes her and utilizes the equipment without burdening her with a physical item. Just the kind of gesture idea I was hoping for!

Thanks again everyone! If you have more ideas, please keep them coming!!
posted by hansbrough at 9:43 PM on June 7 [3 favorites]

Can you make some things for the place they're moving to, that would be used in a common area? That way she will see every day how many people are still being touched by her generosity.

Alternatively, even though it's kind of hum-drum, producing some nice but utilitarian items for, e.g., a local women's shelter, and donating them in both your names, would bring her with you into an act of sending more of her gift out into the world.

Could you make more of the shawls for her synagogue to give to other kids?

(You're awesome for thinking about this, BTW, and not just scuttling off with a chortle to pursue your own projects!)
posted by wenestvedt at 7:54 AM on June 8

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