MISSOULA, Mont. — Mary Hanson was going through an odd time in her life, as she describes it.

The Milwaukee resident, now in her sixties, said she’d been losing some friends and relatives.

The news, meanwhile, was filled with election controversies and the racial tumult in her home city.

At the end of a week of 90-degree weather, she went to check her mail.

Among the junk mail and the bills, she found “this little bright pineapple” painted in watercolor and acrylic on a postcard. It’s a simple thing, she said, but it touched her.

“It just was very compelling to have that physical thing,” she said in a phone interview. Not an ad, a tweet or a Facebook post, but a small painted card from a complete stranger.

It was mailed to her on Aug. 30 by Linds Sanders, a Missoula artist, as part of her Art by Post project, in which she creates one card a day and mails it to someone, either by request through a website or other means. She might even meet a stranger in the airport and ask for their address.

She modeled her yearlong endeavor after a haiku project by ?Andrew O. Dugas, a writer and poet who lives in San Francisco. Dugas wrote 1,001 haikus, one per day, and mailed them to strangers.

Sanders received one in January 2014, in the midst of a stressful day.

Its message was simple, but more poignant for a Montana resident than Dugas may have realized:

“official winter!

at long last we can begin

the countdown to spring”

“It hit me at a time when I really, really needed it,” Sanders said, so much so that she contacted him and said she wanted to create her own version.

“He was amazed and flattered and helped be a mentor through the project,” she said.

A community-minded art project seems a natural fit for Sanders, who has a full-time job as the manager of the Zootown Arts Community Center, the bustling Northside arts center that encourages creativity for students of all ages.

If you walk into the ZACC, she’s probably the first person you’ll see at the front desk, ready to help you find the class you’re looking for or the activity that suites your needs.

ZACC Executive Director Kia Liszak called her “the warm greeter who takes care of everyone” when they first arrive.

“My favorite people are the people who feel like they don’t belong,” Sanders said. “The biggest step they made was walking through the door. By walking through the door, they’re admitting they have a creative bone in their body.”

Adults in particular can feel more self-conscious about trying out art, but she believes everyone brings talent – some might just need to be patient because it takes time to develop a new skill.

Liszak, who hired Sanders, said she was impressed with everything Sanders had accomplished at such a young age.

Sanders’ signature is simply asking everyone who walks in a question: “What has been the highlight of your day?”

It sounds so simple, Liszak said, but it always makes them stop and think.

Sanders, a Billings native, came to Missoula to study journalism at the University of Montana. For an unofficial minor, she took every art class she could.

“All the art professors kept asking me when I was going to apply for the BFA, because they thought I was an art student,” she said.

She grew up around art. Her mother, Connie Dillon, is a photographer and painter who owns a gallery in Billings called Gallery Nine.

After graduating in 2012, Sanders sold feather jewelry at the Saturday markets until her mother passed along a job posting for the ZACC, where Sanders had a solo exhibition as an undergrad.

She applied for a fill-in post, and after someone else left, she became the manager.

“Like all of our jobs here, it just grew and grew and grew,” she said.

She’s also the volunteer coordinator, teaches the once-monthly glass fusing class, loads and looks after the kilns, and comes up with all the graphic design for the ZACC’s myriad brochures, fliers, stickers, etc.

And she’s overflowing with community activities. Outside of the ZACC, she has a part-time job as the owner/designer of Ramble Journals – handmade journals from recycled materials that are sold in stores in Missoula, Billings, Bozeman, Helena and Big Timber. Twenty percent of the proceeds go to the Rina B. Moog Scholarship Fund, created in memory of a close friend.

She also is co-facilitator of a Monday meditation group at Open Way Mindfulness Center in Missoula.

“It feels like they’re suddenly very present and grateful for everything they’re experiencing in that little moment,” she said.

By the time Sanders was 15 years old, she’d seen people around her fall into the trap of substance abuse. She decided she’s better off to her community if she abstains from drugs and alcohol, and has been straight-edge ever since.

“I’m really grateful that I found a good community here that knows the role that alcohol and substances play in their lives and it’s a healthy role,” she said.

Sanders is also a member of a women’s mahjong group that meets every Monday. The mid-20-something is the second-youngest member – the next in age is in her 60s.

She came across the group at the library over three years ago, and sat down because she wanted to know more.

“Within an hour, they had me playing and I just kept coming back every single week,” she said.

“They’re awesome,” she said. The group even traveled to Las Vegas in February to compete in a tournament.

Beyond hiking, inner-tube water polo and more, she says she likes to try a little bit of everything – even taking dance classes, which she says she’s not good at to the point of discomfort, which is part of the point.

“I guess I seek out things that make me uncomfortable and try to stick with them long enough to wonder why I’m uncomfortable,” she said.


Information from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com