Thursday, October 16, 2014

Elder Art: Collage

Scraps from my studio become art supplies
I brought a pile of autumn-hued fabric scraps to my art classes this week.

Adding leaves to a painted ground

Folks were surprised  that fabric could be an art supply. They loved the colors, the textures. Several noticed the silks and the remnants of hand-dyed table cloths. This is the generation that treasured those linens. 

This student, usually hesitant, often disappointed, loved the process.

a rich scene

For the Alzheimer's patients, however, tasks remained discrete. Think about it: gluing is made up of many steps. It requires a sense of what is possible in the immediate future, and that's just what Alzheimer's robs away. 

Every student needed one-on-one attention to get anything glued to paper. Then, the collaged image didn't hold together in their eyes. "It looks like blobs. There's too much white."

 So we backed up and worked on the processes that made sense to each person.
Trimming a rough edge
Adding leaves to a painting
A bit of green linen for ground
Adding color to the background
One woman painted the tree's edges green.  I handed her a brush with orange paint on it, and she carefully over-painted all the leaves.
a second layer of color

 Then she painted the trunk orange. And smiled a huge smile.

I come home to world news and this work seems so small. But it requires time, attention, patience, creativity and quantities of love. We could all use more of that.

 "Your class is a constant in a sea of change," a director assured me. "What you do makes them happy. We see the effects for hours afterwards."

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Alzheimer's Art: Pumpkins

This is my favorite time to teach painting. Subject matter is everywhere, rich with color and memory. Last week I hauled pumpkins to all my classes.  Even the most hesitant residents were inspired.

 These first two are from a class in a long-term care facility. Both these paintings took two sessions to complete, and were worked in watercolor.
I love the circles of orange and yellow.
watercolor by Long-Term Care resident

Then I took my pumpkins to the Alzheimer's class. The pace slows down here. Last year we "grew" the pumpkin from the middle section out. This year I had them draw the left then the right outside edges, then we slowly added the curves inside with orange. Then they set to work filling in the segments. While painting, scraps of memory came up: carving pumpkins,  trick-or-treating."My mother never let me go. She said I was not going to go begging from door to door."
Each mark is a struggle, though often a satisfying one. 
 The ability to "fill in" areas becomes harder with Alzheimer's, and eventually disappears.This resident is at the edge of that transition.

 This resident loves hearts and delicate designs.
 But even better than the work was the conversation afterwards. I lined the pieces up and we looked at them together. "Which do you like best?" one asked me. "I like them all together best. The whole is better than the sum of the parts. They make each other stronger."
"That's the right thing to say," another answered. "You want everyone to feel they've done something worthwhile."
Knock-me-over-with-a-feather time again.
A good day.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Alzheimer's project: a Garden View

One of my employers asked for a project that was "anything fiber." She showed me pieces in the Assisted Living art room.  I could tell they had been made by more fully functioning hands and minds. How to bring the same processes to my Alzheimer's patients?

With Alzheimer's groups, abilities are all over the map.  I  wanted everyone, even those at the far ends of the spectrum, to feel success.

The Concerns that Shaped This Project

  • Impaired vision.  Alzheimer's can make it hard to interpret shapes. Dark objects on a light ground made designs easier to "read."
  • Arthritic hands. Don't assume people can (or can't) use scissors. I cut out leaves and flowers  defined enough to satisfy some folks, but loose enough to encourage others, who could, to "edit" them. Also, I brought my good fabric scissors.
  • Immobility. For many, movement is a struggle. After considering several ways to  make the project collaborative (rotate the pieces among students? Work together in the middle of the table?) I borrowed from the quilt tradition, and  pre-cut background squares to distribute.
  • Unreliable short-term memory.  A surprising lesson has been that gluing can confuse Alzheimer's folks. Too many steps. So I pre-fused all fabric and brought my own iron, then pressed each collage as it was finished.
  • The blank page problem. An empty page stops folks. To guide participants, I adhered "stems" to each block beforehand. This also embedded an over-all design, so the pieces worked well together.
  • Life in a locked ward. All those walls. I wanted this piece to feel like a virtual window.
I tested the idea with another class. Biggest discovery: The most mentally adept worked carefully, trimming shapes and perfecting placement.
More impaired students filled the page and finished quickly.
So I prepared lots of materials and brought at least two background squares for each artist. On the big day, each person completed at least one square. The most impaired artists finishing three pieces each. I wrote their names down on the pieces as they finished.

Several folks stayed afterwards, to look at the finished pieces. They marveled at how good everything looked together. We talked about different ways to organize them.  Amazing. For me, perhaps the most satisfying moment.

The next week, I sewed the squares together, fused and stitched the result to batting, then backed, bound and labeled it. I took the piece to a long meeting, where I embroidered the residents' names.  A sleeve and wired board readied it for hanging.

 It will look even lovelier when winter sets in.

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