New ingredients are always being added to the ElderSparks mix, perhaps none more savory than this week’s additions. Cynthia brought freshly cut leaves of basil, and I contributed sprigs of thyme from my patio — all packaged in clear, serving-sized snack bags and looking like beautiful botanical specimens. We were hoping that the residents would be catapulted, like us, into aroma ecstasy upon sniffing the contents but their noses had other ideas. During a follow-up round of Twenty Questions, we learned that E~ is smitten with roses, L~, carnations. M~ was as taciturn as ever, unwilling to name his favorite smell or even join in the conversation. He soon fell asleep and had to be awakened at the end of the session.

The principal activity-du-jour involved working with photographs I had taken of everyone earlier. Before doing that though, I wanted them to have another look at the collaborative drawings we did last week — partly for the sake of continuity but also to help them become more comfortable with their own artistic expression. I thought they had done a wonderful job.

Alas, they weren’t anywhere near as complimentary about my photographic portraiture. The strongest reaction came from L~ who was amazed at how old she appeared; later she said that the woman in the photo looked like someone who “knew a lot, but it’s important to keep that knowledge to one’s self.” Fortunately, they all had healthy egos and were able to examine their likenesses with amused detachment.

I thought it would be fun for them to embellish their photographs using color, graffiti, or montage techniques. For inspiration I showed them some of Picasso’s cubist work; to illustrate what mere mortals could do, I hoped the experiments I had done with myself as a guinea pig would suffice.

I’ve often wondered how I would look as a blonde.

 Montage #1 (center): Elements of the b&w print (l) have been layered on top of the color print (r).

Montage #2 (center): Elements of the color print (r) have been layered on top of the b&w print (l).

Montage #3 (left): torn sections of the color print (r) have been layered on top of another print.

Montage work I realized would be hard for them so I suggested we start with the simpler techniques of coloring or graffiti. M~ was still asleep and E~ left to hang out with surprise visitors (including a young granddaughter she hadn’t seen in three years). That left L~ and S~ to uncover their inner Picasso.

Each had duplicate color and b&w prints of their portrait to work with. L~ began by giving herself a brunette look, complete with a new hairline. My styling skills weren’t much help, and together we ended up with something that resembled the world’s ugliest swim cap. We tore that print up and started work on another. This time, we opted for simplicity, adding only lipstick, and some rouge to the cheeks. L~ was especially delighted when Cynthia offered to draw a headband with flowers on her forehead. The result, we all agreed, was far superior to our other attempt. (To preserve privacy, faces have been blurred on the prints below):

S~ had a career as an artist, but old age and infirmity has left her with little manual dexterity, and limited hearing and speaking abilities. She showed no hesitation however in choosing blue to color her hair with, and yellow for the background. I’m always impressed by the aesthetic judgment and confidence she reveals in these simple exercises. It’s unfortunate that there wasn’t enough time for her to complete the coloring.

Before ending, I gave L~ and S~ gentle shoulder rubs which were obviously a hit. I would have given one to M~ with his permission, but he was still asleep.