On Monday, September 17, JABA’s Nelson Senior Community Center will host an Open House Art Show. This is the second year for the show, which will feature paintings created by members of the Nelson Center and JABA’s Mary Williams Center in Charlottesville as part of a program of VSA, (the International Organization on Arts and Disability,) in conjunction with Charlottesville Parks and Recreation.
The exhibit and the method behind the paintings are the work of Art Therapist Cathy L. Kiehl, M.S. She explained the process behind the artwork in the essay below from 2011.
I have been working with Mary Williams Senior Center for approximately six years and Nelson County Senior Center for four years or so. I found when working with adults and the creative process that the biggest challenges for them, particularly when painting, is #1. What to paint, and #2.Getting an image onto the canvas. It was stressful for them and would keep them from participating. So, I gave them a choice of images. These images could be from magazines, old art technique books, old birthday cards, newspaper images, etc. They could also bring in their own images or just paint freehand.
Sometimes they would choose more than one image to be combined. We would then talk about why they chose the image(s) and how they envisioned it on their canvas. That took care of first issue. I solved the second issue by drawing the main part of the chosen image onto the canvas for them. Then they took it from there to paint. I was available to answers questions or occasionally to help straighten a line or do shading (if they told me what they felt their paintings needed some adjusting in order for them to be happy with their work). Some had problems with shaky hands or vision and asked for help, but they directed me.
I found that by taking away the stress involved with painting, more folks wanted to participate and this was their favorite activity. I’m not trained in art instruction but I had to take 18 hours of studio art before applying to Eastern Virginia Medical School’s Art Therapy Program. I do not consider myself a professional artist or instructor, but as an Art Therapist, my goal is to give the participants a task whereby they can relax, learn something new (we all know that doing something different creates new neural pathways), boost their confidence and self-esteem.
As we age, we sometimes have a sense of loss of control and lose our problem-solving abilities. The creative process allows the participants to have control with their choice of image, color, technique. No one is going to tell them they are wrong. In our groups, the “art police” are not there. Making those choices also helps in the problem-solving area and hopefully transfers to dealing with problems in their home life. At the end we talk about the paintings and, using their imagination, the participants come up with a story that is based on their chosen image. My mantra for this activity is “there are many things in life we cannot change but painting is not one of them. You can always paint over it, if you don’t like it”.
Most in both groups are dealing with medical problems of some kind. Some are physical, cognitive or even loss of independence or family members. This activity has given them some way to forget about their problems even if for an hour or so each session. They have worked on these paintings for six sessions and stuck with it.