‘We’re like sisters:’ How four Milwaukee women found lifelong friendship through their love of art

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WEST ALLIS, Wis. (CBS 58) — They say good friends are like four leaf clovers — hard to find and lucky to have.

That’s why Debbie Callahan, Marcia Hochstetter, Marcia Hero, and Patti Belbin consider themselves some of the luckiest women in Milwaukee.

The group calls themselves the “Martini Girls 4” — a tribute to their friendship’s beginnings nearly two decades ago.

Callahan, Hochstetter, and Hero were taking art classes together on Thursdays.

"We used to go out on Thursday night after a class we were taking and have a martini at this martini bar, and the waitress called us the Martini Girls,” Callahan said.

Clearly, the name stuck and soon the trio began working in a studio together creating art.

“We were at 6909 West North Avenue, and we were there for 10 years,” Hero said.

A couple of years later, Patti Belbin would walk in.

"They started doing open studio at their North Avenue studio when they still had it and I would go every Saturday that they had it,” Belbin said. “Eventually, it just kind of fell into a rhythm and they one day just said, ‘okay, you're just one of us.’”

The rest became history.

"There had to be a definition between the Marcia Hochstetter and the Marcia Hero because our initials are the same, M-H,” Hero said. “Debbie knew Marcia Hochstetter first and then I was the second Marcia to come along, hence M 1 and M 2.”

Now the foursome spends their days inside two rented rooms at Inspiration Studios in West Allis that they call the “Martini Girls 4 Studio.”

"Every once in a while, we'll come here, and we'll look at each other and we'll go, 'we are so lucky.’ We are so incredibly lucky and thankful to be where we are today,” Hero said.

Callahan noted that the group will easily spend hours together.

"We bring our lunches, we each bring treats and we work all day,” Callahan said. “It’s great fun.”

Every year, they put on an art show at the Art Bar in Riverwest, showcasing their unique styles and techniques.

"Whenever we do either like a huge exhibit together or just our pieces are side by side, it’s very odd, because we're all very, very different but our pieces hang very peacefully together,” Belbin said. “It all fits together and to have four people who are as different as the four of us and paint so differently, to have that happen… you know, you can't really ask for more than that.”

All four told CBS 58’s Ellie Nakamoto-White that they realized how special of a bond they had together.

"To have friends this wonderful, I don’t take for granted,” Callahan said.

Hochstetter agreed, adding, she thinks “the world” of them.

“I don't know what I would do without them to be quite honest. It's just an extremely special relationship, and I don't know that many people have that,” Hochstetter said.

And just like all relationships, it doesn’t mean there’s never any ups and downs.

"You can't get a group of women together and not have some differences and some disputes,” Hero said. “But we tend to talk them out and work them out and remain a tight knit group.”

Rather than a friendship, this bond is best described as “sisterhood.”

"We'll be bonded for the rest of our lives. As you know, even if I didn't see them after today, it wouldn't matter because we're sisters,” Belbin said. “I’ve found my home.”

A family, not by blood, but by love. A choice so permanent that Callahan, Hochstetter, and Hero even have martini glasses tattooed onto them, on their hip, ankle, and chest, respectively.

“Mine’s gonna be on my inner arm,” Belbin said, laughingly. “It’s a tipped over martini glass that’s spilled because I’m a klutz.”

"I said, you know, when we do get these, we have to be friends forever, because we've got this tattoo and you can't erase it,” Hochstetter said. “Friendship is so much more important than anything else and that's what the four of us have together.”

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