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THE WOMEN OF TTN

Our members are the heart and soul of The Transition Network.  Our chapters are born, nurtured and grown through the vision and energy of these exceptional women. And they come to TTN with wonderful life stories of successful careers, diverse families, and plentiful life experiences to share.  

Browse through our Member Profiles to learn more about what brought our members to this point in their lives, what they are hoping to accomplish next and how they view their impact on the world.

Joan Menschenfreund

My first glimpse of Joan Menschenfreund was that of an artist engrossed in her newest painting, of a lively street scene she had seen outside her Upper West Side window. Joan was working in the art room of the Goddard-Riverside Community Center, where her vibrant watercolors focusing on nature, portraits of her two cats, and yes, more scenes along Amsterdam Avenue, were hanging in her first one-woman watercolor show.

Joan has been a visual artist for more than fifty years, ever since she majored in fine art and advertising art, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of Buffalo. Her career took many twists over the years, starting from her first job, with a major New York advertising agency. “I didn’t stay there long,” she told me with a wry grin. “It was just like Mad Men. They liked my portfolio – but then gave me a typing test and sat me outside the art director’s office to handle his phone calls. There was a real double standard.”

The more woman-friendly world of publishing beckoned, and Joan became an art editor at Harcourt Brace and then at Holt Rinehart and Winston. At both firms she was responsible for the entire look of a book and loved the hands-on experience of designing layouts and going to museums and libraries to find historical pictures and fine art for her books. During her twenty-year stint in book publishing, she took off for a year to wander around Europe, drinking in the art there, before coming back and pursuing a different artistic route, through photography.

During her last years of publishing, at The New York Times Magazine and Time, Joan focused (in more ways than one) on cameras. She served as the photo editor at the magazines, hiring photographers and doing research. And she also learned how to shoot, develop, and print photos; sold pictures that she took on her travels; and freelanced for a while as a photo editor. During her freelance years she was recruited by Bill Gates’s new company, Corbis, to edit photo collections. Her cats came with her to Bellevue, Washington, and enjoyed her all-expenses-paid apartment and car.

Then, ten years ago at the age of 62, she decided it was time to retire. “I had been working more than fifty hours a week, racing around, under great pressure – and not enjoying the work as much since the advent of the Internet, which cut out so much of the hands-on work that I really liked.

“I had taken some art courses over the years, and now I decided it was time to get more serious about painting,” Joan told me. She started out with oil painting classes at the 92nd Street “Y” and then, three years ago, took up watercolors. Through a friend in her oil painting class she heard about the free watercolor class at Goddard-Riverside and signed up, continuing meanwhile with her work in oil.

“I get inspired in both kinds of classes,” she said. “I’ll see something someone else is doing that I think is fantastic, and that wakes me up. It’s a form of competition with so many good artists, and that’s a great motivator.”

A friend of TTN co-founder Charlotte Frank, Joan joined TTN soon after its birth and became active when she joined a peer group, which is still meeting ten years later. “After retiring, I didn’t have that many friends who weren't working, and TTN filled this important void in my life, where I can be surrounded with caring, bright, adventurous women.

“Then, when the Caring Collaborative became free with TTN membership, I joined a neighborhood group where we talk honestly about all sorts of things. The most recent discussion was about looking at ourselves in the mirror, and I had to ask myself, ‘When was the last time I stood naked in front of a mirror?’ So I did it.”

Brave questions – and actions – like this characterize Joan’s life, from her risk-taking during the freelancing years, to her determination to lead a full life despite several serious surgeries to treat her severe and painful scoliosis. “I was lucky to come out of it okay, but I had to learn to walk again and I still have to deal with some limited movement and a lifetime of trying to keep myself limber.”

Right now – and in her future – art is the major vehicle that drives Joan’s life. “Adventure and a love of learning are still there," she says, "as well as a striving to face things head-on and as honestly as I can. I find life exhilarating. Defining who one is is a lifelong endeavor and sometimes a bit of a surprise.”
 
To see Joan’s work, go to: http://joanmenschenfreund.weebly.com/.

~ Sally Wendkos Olds