June and July have been busy months, filled with conferences and two ElderSparks presentations, Mill Street Loft art programs for the elderly and adults with developmental disabilities, and planting seeds for new initiatives. In addition, I’ve started working privately with an 86 year-old woman whom I see two hours/day, two times/week, to bring fresh stimulation into her life.
As we get further into the summer, I hope to share some favorite “snapshots” from the past few weeks. Here is one of the more memorable to start:
June 6, I assisted at a workshop for Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers at the Vassar College art museum. It was a joint project of the Alzheimer’s Association and Mill Street Loft, and modeled after the highly regarded Museum of Modern Art program, Meet Me at MoMA.
The session began with a gallery talk introducing the group to three different works on display. Afterwards, participants were given twenty–thirty minutes to commune with one of the three pieces and begin working on a drawing that reflected their personal response. We then went upstairs where more supplies were available to complete the exercise.
(Click on images to enlarge.)
While still downstairs, I noticed that one man was sitting blankly before a Calder sculpture. Fifteen minutes had gone by and he had yet to make a mark on his sheet of paper. When asked if he needed assistance, he explained that he was stuck and didn’t know where or how to begin. I suggested he start with any shape that he was drawn to within the sculpture’s circular frame. He chose a small horn-like object and began to sketch it. He said it reminded him of something related to flying.
Upstairs, we continued exploring the theme of flight together, albeit with decidedly different approaches. He drew a slightly curved line that began near the bottom of the left-hand side of the page and swept upwards as it approached the opposite side; I danced around in my worst Isadora Duncan impression attempting to capture the sensation of airborne freedom; he glued several black squares of diminishing size along his sloping trajectory; I launched a paper airplane, only to see it dive abruptly and crash; he kept saying the word “back.”
I was beginning to feel a bit sorry for him, thinking he was too inhibited or cognitively impaired to imagine a life with wings. In fact, he was much closer to that experience than I’ll ever be: it turns out he had been a pilot up until only a few short years ago. The line he had drawn was a flight path, the black squares, receding rooftops as the plane gained altitude, and the backwards leaning body he was alluding to was, of course, our natural position during take off. However simple and artless his collage may have been, it couldn’t have been a purer reflection of his authentic truth.
In saying goodbye, he thanked me for helping him connect with his love of flying and the perspective he could share as a pilot. I in turn was honored that he thought enough of my paper airplane to give it a prominent place in his collage.