For a few hours a week, for close to the last 6 years, I have had the fortunate experience to work with elderly thru a program known as 'Art With Elders', based in San Francisco, CA. How I became involved in the program is a memory that is stained in my mind. I responded to an ad that was seeking volunteers to escort elder artists in wheelchairs who were attendance of their gala so that they may be celebrated and have the opportunity to experience the art of their peers. The CEO, Brent Nettle gave a speech saying 'we live in a society that is starving for honest images.. the artists in the Art With Elder program provide this...". I was touched deeply, and before hearing these words I was awe struck by experiencing the art on the walls alone. They were not only honest, but personal, creative, and passionate. I didn't get any sense as art being practiced as a sport, an 'ego trip', which tends to be my personal view/experience often when I attend contemporary gallery shows. Long story short, I meet Brent that night, attend a job interview weeks later and begin the chapter of my life as art instructor working with the elderly.
Upon reflection over these past 6 years of the Art With Elders experience, it is easily one of my proudest life experiences. It continues to be a wealth of wisdom, knowledge, insight into the nature of true reality. When attending faculty meetings, the other members often share heartwarming stories that anyone can not help but experience being in the situation. I certainly have mine. Just to share one of my favorites... One of my first students was a diva poet in her eighties. She was a bundle of passionate energy, putting creativity at the forefront of most her life. Her medium is writing having published books of her poetry, and she took advantage of attending the class as to learn to express herself visually. Though going thru the frustrations of a beginner in painting, she was determined. She never missed class, and gave me a hard time if I had to cancel for any reason. She would work diligently on completing painting after painting between classes. So much so, I was feeling guilty of being lazy in my own practice. As the result of her age, naturally her body was showing signs of shutting down. At one point she was having serious knee problems, and could barely walk being in chronic pain/discomfort, but she hobbled to class where we made a sling with a chair to prop the injured leg up while she painted. She would attend a doctors appointment later for the matter, and I was told she had brought her art materials to the office and continued to paint on the floor until she was called. Her spirit was so touching, and she would upon myself leaving that specific class for others, say to me 'if only I were fifty years younger I would smother you'. It made me blush, and I took the words seriously for she had a boyfriend who was in his fifties. Through out our relationship, I would get to know her history and what a rich one it is. Everyone has a story, and how inviting when a veteran of life so close to the finish line presents it like an open book. I am so proud to have been another character of an experience her life story, as she is mine.
The following is a piece created in homage to the elder experience, which I currently still am a part of. The person painted is Ada, who I adore and currently work with. Enjoy.
"Thank you elders. For the shared experience. You are the veterans of life that are a fountain of wisdom from a life lived. It is in your presence, that I walk away with a reference point to live here and now intensely. That there is an ending chapter to this life story and to cultivate courage so as to take responsibility for being it's sole author. The body ages wearily, and the mind follows. Yet it is your uplifting spirit that I find inspiration to experience the fullest potential existing in this constant fleeting human experience. Thanks for the unconditional generosity, openness, love, laughs, and friendship. It has been the chapter in my life story that I re-read with a sense of fullfillment each time. Thank you with Love..."