Although ElderSparks was very active this summer, you’d never know it based on the number of recent posts. As a result, three months of creative expression piled up on walls and shelves, and in boxes, envelopes, and digital files, just begging for a wider audience. Labor Day weekend saw us scrambling to catch up, and now we’re finally able to resume our blogging. Part 1 of our summer wrap-up is devoted to work with art tissue; Part 2 will focus on our cartographic adventures. No point inundating you with too much visual stimulation at once.

Back in June when I was first introduced to art tissue, I became intrigued with the beautiful textural and watercolor effects that resulted from crinkling and wetting the paper. I thought it was a wonderful medium for ElderSparks students and began exploring its possibilities with Sylvia first. (Click on images to enlarge):

This piece began as an abstract work with a square piece of green art tissue in the center. Sylvia noticed a triangular shape protruding from the upper left corner, and immediately envisioned a “pussy cat.” From that point on, she and I collaborated on creating a feline with a distinctive personality and stylish perch for bird watching. The pink curtains are adorned with grassy stems.

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Jeff and Sylvia assembled this collage using art tissue, soft pastels, leaves, rose petals, plant stems, and colored strips of paper.

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A few weeks later, we began using foil-covered cardboard disks (about 8” in diameter) as backgrounds for art tissue collages. My hope was that they could eventually be used as elements in a large mobile.

Front and back sides (l-r) of a disk that Sylvia made especially for her daughter. I had asked students to create something on one surface, and then use the reverse side to depict the guiding spirit or energy — an abstract face, symbol, or design — that gave rise to the original art. It was a difficult concept for them to grasp though, and Sylvia’s was the only piece that managed to unite both halves.

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 Jeff’s collages.

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Dorothy joined our weekly Thursday afternoon group in July. A former elementary school teacher who had taught Ben Shahn’s children, she felt very comfortable doing art. The piece on the right was her second but she didn’t like it at all, feeling it was too farmisht (Yiddish for confused) — too segmented and chaotic — and not unlike what took place in her head, she explained. Others saw it in a more positive light, comparing it to wispy seed heads floating in the air. We also discussed how a single entity could be either whole or a fragment, depending on the perspective from which it was viewed.

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Dorothy’s openness was so inspiring that we devoted the next session to the following challenge: how each of us might visually portray our individual thought processes. Jeff went first and drew a curving, orange line that kept looping back on itself as it went along. Orange was a “cozy, friendly” color to him, and the loops represented his struggle to find and say the right words.

 Jeff’s drawing.

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With Jeff’s permission, I asked everyone else how they would represent his aphasia: the simple drawings included a cartoon-like loving portrait and a mouth with bars for teeth. The exercise and its related discussion had the added benefit of evoking more sensitivity within the group to Jeff’s condition.

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 A second pair of collages by Sylvia.

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Another newcomer, Bernice, sat observing our final art tissue session. She wasn’t the least bit shy about letting us know that abstract art was not her thing — “I’m very conventional in my views, I never thought outside the box. I wasn’t ready for this nursing home.” Wanting to get her out of her head and into the actual experience of making art, I gave her some crayons and invited her to write her name as creatively as possible. She did so by printing “Bernice” in one color, her last name in another hue. I then did a version in which each letter was a different color, followed by my colleague Cynthia who did one with curlicues and other embellishments. Our attempts were hardly works of art but our visitor took them back to her room, saying, “Thank you for showing me new ways to express myself.”

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