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Laurels Ladies Share their Story

by Hannah Brokenshire 

 

The first year of the Artful Aging Ohio (AAO) program brought fabric art to Athens, music and movement to Akron, and Gospel to Toledo. With the pilot nearing its end, and seven successful programs on the books, there is a clear desire among residents and artists alike to continue the creative process in senior living homes. Goldean Gibbs, Artful Aging Ohio coordinator, uncovered the value in providing access to arts opportunities while witnessing their meaningful outcomes.

"Artists who are well versed in their art form have the uncanny ability to unleash participation and creativity from residents. It reminds them of something within their previous life or simply touches their souls," Gibbs said.
In an effort to hear the stories behind the praise, I traveled to Athens to visit Stacia Davis Moore at The Laurels of Athens. Volunteer extraordinaire, among many titles, Stacia kindly agreed to introduce me to a few hesitant residents. In the open activity room a display case proudly houses resident-designed jewelry, an easel in the corner holds a colorful landscape, and of course, puzzles are not far out of reach. 

The residents at The Laurels of Athens have experienced two AAO residencies. The first, with visual artist Patty Mitchell, included a massive project around the holidays. It was aptly titled "Winter Wonderland". “Oh it was magical,” Margaret, the first resident to join us in conversation, tells me.

Bonnie, our second guest at the table, echos her sentiment immediately. With sound creative direction, the residents transformed the gazebo into a fabric enclave with hand-painted lanterns, a cardboard village, and more. “We spent hours,” Bonnie says, with Margaret quick to add, “but it was so much fun.” 

The second residency consisted of creative writing and poetry workshops with Wendy McVicker. It sparked not only creativity, but fond memories too. Even as the second program comes to a close, the “Laurels Ladies,” or “Twister Sisters,” (an inside joke among friends) continue to create. “I’ve liked it all, especially the jewelry, because I’ve learned something I had never done before. I didn’t quite think I was capable of learning something new, especially at 80 years old,” Margaret tells me as we look at the necklaces and bracelets she designs for friends and family. 

As is the case for Bonnie, whose decorative pens are placed with care by Stacia on the table in front of me. “I take regular pens and then pick different colors of clay to create art around them,” Bonnie says as she places the pens in my direction. As I pick one up, it fits instantly into my hand, it wasn’t until this point that I glance at her hands. Rheumatoid arthritis. “I like a challenge,” Bonnie says with a smile.

Merlene, or “Mer,” joins our table next and is keen to explain the value beyond the beads. “It’s so important to know that it’s not just jewelry, but learning what their talents are,” she told me. A former school principal, Mer's insight leans more to self-worth and empowerment than arts and crafts. “I’ve probably taught every class that could be taught, but this lesson has been invaluable," she says. "It’s an ongoing process. That’s what learning is about. We can’t just be settled on one thing.” 

As Mer spoke, I notice the expressions on Margaret and Bonnie’s faces shift. When Margaret spoke next it was with full eyes, “I thought life was over until I came here and I learned that everybody can work together and we can be a big family.” Looking around the table with admiration, Bonnie spoke up, “We’re not going to fade away, we’re going to leave something behind.”

Among many conversations, I had the pleasure to learn the story behind the colorful landscape I spied earlier. All you have to do is ask Martha, "Marty", one question about her painting and the memories flood back. She talked us through the components of her painting, Seven Sisters, and it quickly became more than blue trees and vibrant flowers, it became a visual aid to her childhood memories. “It just connects me to so many stories,” Marty said, smiling as she looked across the canvas. “It’s a tribute to my sisters, I’m mindful of them wherever they are. We may be separated by miles or heavens but we’re always connected at heart.” 

The value of being asked to participate is paramount. "Participation among many of the residents comes down to a simple, Would you like to?" Stacia says. It’s clear by the collective nodding around the table that the Laurels Ladies agree.

After a few hours at The Laurels, it's clear that 
the ask goes beyond breaking the participation barrier. Listening to the memories that drive the creative process is a clear indication of the key role these arts opportunities fulfill. 

"The value is definitely awakening the creativity and giving residents another venue to become engaged," Gibbs said.
The aging population, though they may express initial apprehension, is willing and ready to be engaged when given the proper canvas and encouragement, all we have to do is ask.



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