Anne E. Lawrence, Ann Arbor, MI

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Anne with an E of Ann Arbor (without an E) is is a clothesline aficionado whose home and traveling roadshow is a mini-museum collection of laundry paraphernalia.  Anne is a native of Boston, Massachusetts, graduating from Girls’ Latin School and Tufts University in psychology and education. She has lived half of her life in the Midwest – first in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and currently in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She has held administrative positions in the field of education (20 years at Brandeis University) and research psychology.

Among her fondest childhood memories as a little girl (in the 1950s) are those of standing alongside her mother hanging the wash outdoors on the clothesline, while she had the ‘grown-up’ job of handing the clothespins to her. (She even figured out a way to place the clothespin into her mother’s outstretched palm as if it were a medical instrument!) She loved watching the laundry flapping in the breezes, and sensed the relaxation and tranquillity evident on her mother’s face when hanging laundry. She and her mother would bury their noses in the freshly dried clothes to inhale the smell of sunshine.  They would laugh at her father’s frozen-stiff long-johns fresh off the winter clothesline that were brought into the house standing up like cardboard cutouts.

In 1966 Anne took a photo of her mother leaning over the porch railing after hanging a small load of clothes on the lines.  That photo, rediscovered years later, became the inspiration for her hobby of searching out and collecting clothesline memorabilia in all its forms. Over the past 23 years Anne has amassed a sizable collection of clothesline-related paraphernalia, including paintings, photographs, objects of art, clothing, books, personal stories, ceramics, crafts, postcards, greeting cards, antique laundry items, comic strips, videos, CDs, and all sorts of laundry room décor.  She organizes and categorizes reference materials into ever-growing binders on subject matter such as clotheslines in the news, around the world, in film and video, in essays/poetry/writing, in advertising, in literature, music, and more.

Early-on, Project Laundry List became an important part of Anne’s research and passion for spreading the word about line-drying and promoting the green movement.  The Project Laundry List website and its promoters are a continual source of information and inspiration for her hobby.  While the initial impetus for Anne’s hobby was nostalgia, it soon became apparent that acknowledging the bad rap that led to the demise of the clothesline was critical to helping spread the word about solar drying in today’s eco-conscious world.

Since retiring in 2009, Anne has been offering presentations around the Ann Arbor, Michigan community, called “The Love, Lure, and Lore of the Clothesline,” in which she shares how her hobby came to be, why she loves clotheslines so much, why others do as well, the history of washday through the ages, and the current status of outdoor drying. She also touches on sociological issues such as feminism (i.e. was the clothesline a symbol of household drudgery for women?), and ethnic stereotypes in the laundry industry (i.e., the black Mammy, the Chinese laundryman).  She reads laundry poetry, and shares personal stories that reveal the people behind the clotheslines.  When time allows, she enjoys showing the award-winning poetic documentary, “Clotheslines,” by Roberta Cantow, which is always a big hit.

Anne marvels that what began as a personal quirky hobby has become an intriguing take on an ordinary, everyday object.  She discovered the stories woven into the fabrics on the clotheslines. Those who attend her talks often admit that they showed up only because they couldn’t imagine what one could talk about on this subject!  Inevitably, they leave her talk admitting that it was thought-provoking and made them aware of the significance of material culture in their lives. With the combination of artifacts from her collection, the images she displays, and the stories she tells, audience members are inspired to share their own special stories and memories.

Her original audiences were residents in a variety of senior-living communities and at senior centers, for whom her nostalgic talk revived pleasant memories of simpler times to which they all could relate.  She reminds them that in days gone by they could easily “go online” without the Internet! Over time, Anne has expanded her audiences to organizations such as church groups, antiquing groups, women’s clubs, memory-loss groups (for whom clothesline memories are easily evoked), and historical preservation groups.  She has presented a class on the subject at three continuing education venues, and has appeared on a local radio show, “Everything Elderly.” And online (so to speak), she has connected with others who share her passion, such as those on Pinterest who cherish photos and art depicting clothes hanging on lines. Currently Anne has started to tailor her talk to show preschoolers how laundry began and how wonderful it is to hang clothes outdoors to dry – something that may be new to them!

In concluding her talk, Anne always throws in a bunch of laundry puns, such as “I don’t want to put you through the wringer while airing my thoughts, and won’t leave you hanging in suspense, because I want to pin things down for you and remove any hang-ups you may have about outdoor drying.”  And concludes with “I’ve had loads of fun today hangin’ out with all of you.”

Ironically, since living in condo communities for many years, where outdoor clotheslines are prohibited, Anne has had to create interior drying arrangements in her basement and laundry room – but dreams that someday she will once again be free to let it all hang out outdoors!