Theme on an Upside Down Quilt
At home, I gathered books and supplies for a ridiculously broad theme... Art & Artists. Then I grabbed the quilt, with a plan to turn the colorful, patchwork side, down on the table. My morning group loves quilts. I wondered if they would protest.
When I unloaded the props, my morning group had no problems guessing the theme. Then I asked, "Why do you think I put the quilt bottom-side up, today?" Most figured it was just to show off the hand stitching.
That was a pretty good answer, but actually the colorful art clashed with the fabric designs. Then I explained that later, the white, quilted side would become our blank canvas!
The table props always get the group talking. Most in my morning group do artwork weekly with the Senior Engagement program. They were eager to talk about their own painting.
Artists at the Table
In my morning group, we talked just a little about famous artists. Mostly we talked about each of us being artists. These 3 have shared their watercolors, oil painting and quilting with me in the past.
Do we need a canvas?
I asked what you can paint on, besides paper or canvas.
Some mentioned ceramics and walls... furniture and even window glass. We talked about graffiti and I asked if they thought that was art. Most thought not, but I told them about how graffiti has changed over the years. And the art of tattoos has changed, too. I wasn't very convincing with that idea.
Kids and Art
We talked about kids creating art and how less inhibited they can be, compared to adults. We discussed how children view art differently, as well. I told them about my friend who is a museum docent and her stories of how children react to art.
I'm not really sure how many in my morning group have been to an art museum. (I should have asked) But they are all very familiar with the work of Norman Rockwell.
I have to thank Norman for joining almost every quilt gathering I've had with my Senior Groups. For almost every theme, there is a nostalgic Rockwell painting that fits right in. His art stirs up memories for so many of us! For our theme today, it was fun to find a few of his paintings, that focussed on artists!
I had one more Rockwell image, of a gentleman viewing a Pollack painting in a museum. We wondered what the man was thinking. I also showed the photo of Pollack, splattering his paint. Again, I was not good at convincing my group that this was art.
Painting Without Paint
My morning group is always game for some crazy fun, especially when it involves music. I had no problem getting them to understand the idea of "imagining paint".
I played various pieces of music while they dabbed and swirled and "danced" their paintbrushes all over the white quilt ( blank canvas) to the rhythms and moods of the music.
When the music ended we tried to imagine what our quilt canvas would look like, if we'd had paint on those brushes! A Jackson Pollack painting, maybe?
In the afternoon with my Alzheimer's group, I found myself constantly surprised by the thoughts, stories and humor surrounding our table. There were 8 women gathered and each had their own style of enthusiasm.
Sadie and Van Gogh
Sadie couldn't get enough of one book, that featured Van Gogh's art. She was glued to one of his self portraits. "Just look at him in that hat! There's something so determined about him! Just what is he thinking?"
She went on and on, showing the image to others. I thought maybe she hadn't noticed that Van Gogh's ear was bandaged. I wasn't going to say a thing, but finally she added a casual afterthought. "Yes... he cut off that ear, didn't he?" She clearly knew Van Gogh.
Looking Through Books
We played some games looking through art books, to see who could find certain images first. It was soon evident that these women needed no game to get them involved.
They were content browsing and sharing with each other. Sadie teased, with her good humor. "You know, I think I look a lot like Mona Lisa!" Marie went off on a tangent, recalling her mother's painting skills. I talked about the elaborate paper dolls, my mother created for me.
The mention of Mona Lisa made a few think about the famous song. I didn't come with a recording, but luckily the room had recently been equipped with something we were able to use.
"Alexa, play Mona Lisa!" said Debbie, the activities assistant who had joined us. The magical little music maker suddenly took our gang back to the '50's. Almost everyone in the group knew the words. The whole group suddenly sang and swayed along, with the voice of Nat King Cole.
"Collaborating with the Artist"
This image of Norman Rockwell, painting a self portrait, inspired quite a debate. Vivian studied the image. "Look how tired his face is." Carol disagreed, "Oh, see how his eyebrow is lifted. I think he's just seriously studying what he's doing." Eileen thought it was just the smoke of his pipe that made his eyes look weary.
I just smiled and listened. What a treat to hear the voices of these women sharing their thoughts about one painting.
We had a few other debates over pieces of art. "We all see things differently" I said at one point. Then Eileen, who is soft spoken and thoughtful, smiled. "It's like every person collaborates with the artist. We each have our own ideas and we do our own work to interpret what the artist created." I can't remember her exact words, but they were better than that. I sighed and tried to repeat back, so I wouldn't forget. Oh how I love these folks.
Painting our Canvas
I worried that my paint-less brushes might not go over with these folks. They are a bright and high functioning bunch, but sometimes I need to be more concrete with my Alzheimer's group.
First I asked, "Do you think artists, hum or sing when they paint?" "I doubt it." laughed Eileen. "They probably just smoke a pipe or a cigarette, while they paint." Then we wondered if music played, while an artist worked, would it influence the art. No one seemed sure. I told them I had no paint but I would play music and they would "paint" the "white canvas" with imaginary paint.. to the music. I was prepared for, "Why?" but the group happily jumped in.
Suddenly our quiet little room was filled with light and playful Irish music. The sweet painters went to town, with brushes leaping and dancing jigs all over the cloth. I switched music a couple times, but the favorite was Skater's Waltz. Before long, the painters were humming and swaying as their brushes gracefully moved over the cloth... Except for Carol's brush. She kept her brush lifted and her eyes closed, as she conducted with a smile!
As I packed up my stuff, Carol spoke. "When are we going to go to Way Back Land again?"
I grinned at her term and she wasn't really sure where she'd come up with that. But Eileen knew what she meant. "I know. I love it when we talk about all kinds of things... and then we start remembering all sorts of stories."
What Did I Learn?
I learned that even when the theme is not necessarily a nostalgic one, (like art) my friends, even those with Alzheimer's, end up recalling the past. It's so refreshing to know that folks, with memory loss issues can experience the same joy we all experience, when we're reminded of something good.
Added thought...Odd as it sounds, my afternoon group reminded me of a blank canvas. It's a treat to have so many come to the table, unburdened... living in the moment. It's always unpredictable how the group will react and where we will go. I help with props and music and some ideas, but it is their chemistry and the experiences from their pasts, that all come together to paint a wonderful picture!
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.