I’m a big fan of what I like to call the never-ending art project, i.e., one that is taken in a new direction after completion, and repurposed and refashioned again and again. Often the process involves a good dose of deconstruction, as in the paper weavings J~ and S~ did that were later transformed into splendid quilting blocks.

More recently, the centuries-old Chinese puzzle-game tangram inspired a new round of collage work. It consists of seven pieces (5 right triangles, 1 square, and 1 parallelogram), which players must arrange into recognizable figures without overlapping the shapes. Below are some classic examples:

We tried our hand at several and then did a collaborative, abstract composition by taking turns placing one piece at a time on the board. This is what four of us ended up with:

Flashing her artistic license, S~ broke all the rules when she was on her own:


For the next session, I prepared more colored shapes for J~ and S~ to work with.


The results were striking:

J~’s collages


S~’s collage

After making prints of J~’s collages for posterity (and also for his room), I cut them into smaller pieces, and scored and folded them to add a third dimension. J~ then assembled them into a mobile that now hangs at the central nurses’ station:

The public display of his work gave J~ enormous pleasure.

With such rich material to play with, we went back to the collaborative tangram exercise, this time using pieces drawn from our collection of beautiful collage prints. Our canvas was an 18”x24” sheet of paper, so it took awhile to finish. The concentrated thought that accompanied every turn would occasionally be interrupted by some friendly banter about the previous move. In essence though, it felt like a group meditation. We probably could have gone on forever but left it up to J~ to decide when it was done. Looking at it, you might never know what a serene, collective mind created it.


The vitality and energy in these images is something one doesn’t normally associate with elderly or stroke-impaired residents of a nursing facility. Yet J~ and S~ come to them with tremendous enthusiasm and open-mindedness. Several weeks ago, I gave each a journal they could use for creative expression outside of our weekly ElderSparks class. I can look at page after page of these collages.

A spread from J~’s sketchbook


Two spreads from S~’s sketchbook