17 February 2015

Making Art With Seniors

Over the course of a year and a half, I did monthly art workshops at a local seniors' home. Having no previous experience working with seniors, it was a pretty big learning curve. I had to design activities that could be completed in 1-1.5 hours, with little money for materials; sometimes there were three participants, other times there were up to 15. The levels of ability were extremely mixed, from fairly keen and competent to those who physically struggled to hold a paintbrush, or were unable to focus on any given task. I'd never worked with people with Alzheimers or dementia, and at first it was a bit intimidating. But over the course of these workshops I really got to know some of these seniors, and I enjoyed hanging out with them and trying to offer them interesting experiences. 

The first time I went to the home, my husband Milé came with me. I was in the throes of organizing the first Firelight Lantern Festival, so of course we made a lantern! I made the structure in advance, and the group helped cover it with tissue paper. I think it turned out pretty great!

Sticking with the theme of "do what you know," the next project we did was a scarecrow. I've helped make a lot of these at Small Pond's annual Scarecrow Festival. I brought a bunch of clothes that the seniors could choose from, and they helped stuff the guy full of straw. They named him Marcel, and I delighted them with spinning him around like a dance partner. Fun!

One of our other annual festivals is Stickfest, and I always have a collection of big beautiful beach sticks on hand. The seniors each painted one or two sticks; I whisked the sticks away and strung them into this mobile before returning it to the home.

We did two large-ish paint chip collages, inspired by a substantial donation of paint chips!

These collages were some of my favourite projects, as they easily accommodated a large group of people and a wide range of abilities. I used corrugated plastic for the base.

For Halloween we made these lanterns from mason jars. This was a bit tricky for those with motor skill issues and required quite a bit of assistance from me and the staff. Tutorial here.

We did a few different drawing projects. I love the brightness of chalk pastels.

For Easter I made these salt-dough egg ornaments; I made my own cookie cutter from a tin can. When they came out of the oven they looked an awful lot like cookies, so I gave them a bright base coat before giving them out to the seniors for them to decorate.

Someone still tried to eat one. Whoops...

Our last project was a papier-mâché sculpture called The Wishing Tree, inspired by the story of a very special tree in Prince Edward County. I brought in the foundation of the sculpture, made from cardboard and masking tape, and over the course of three sessions we applied the papier-mâché, painted it, affixed the leaves and made a collage base from those very useful paint chips.

What I will remember most from these workshops were the conversations we had; about life and about art. There was one woman who was a somewhat reluctant participant in some of these workshops; reluctant because she had been a professional artist in her day, and she thought these projects were perhaps beneath her. She showed me some of her work, and when she did participate she made great contributions. I will never forget how one day she looked at me and said, "You remind me so much of myself." Maybe one day I'll be in her place, and an artist will come to visit...