The Thursday before Mother’s day, ElderSparks conducted an afternoon workshop for 20-25 nursing home seniors. In keeping with the holiday spirit, participants received printed reproductions of paintings that depicted either a mother and child, or flowers. As in the Awakening to Spring class several weeks earlier, some prints included: (1) only a center section with blank space surrounding it; (2) two side sections framing an empty middle; (3) the main subject floating on a white background; or (4) an image with the background grayed out.*


(L) Kellie Marian Hill, Mother and Child  (R) Georgia O’Keeffe, Red Canna

 (*1: Lightened areas omitted.)


 Emil Nolde, Red Poppies 

(*1 & 2: Center and side sections indicated by lines.)


 Norman Rockwell, Thanksgiving – Mother and Son Peeling Potatoes 

(*3: Background detail removed.)



 Pablo Picasso, Mother and Child

(*4: Background grayed out.)


The exercise calls upon each participant to find clues in the lines, colors, shapes, and content before them that would help in completing the picture. Rather than trying to duplicate the original though, all were encouraged to follow their muse. I was hoping that some would even incorporate words or details from their past, to make it a more personal experience.

While they worked, I asked those who were mothers to tell us the names of their sons and daughters. Like any good parent, they were soon kvelling about their kids’ careers. Later, I wondered if anyone was willing to share what she’d say to her children on Mother’s Day. One woman practically leaped from her wheelchair to thank her daughter, who was sitting nearby, for being so devoted. A childless resident expressed thanks to her long-deceased mother for her love and support. A third woman spoke about mothers as “godsends,” referring to her own mother who provided invaluable help when the speaker had twins.

The simple, heartfelt quality of the sharing surpassed any expectations I might have had. At the end of the session, I described the role of another mother in making this ElderSparks workshop possible.