Upham's Corner Online

PACE Elder Art - Interview with the Activity Director

Posted: February 16, 2011     Nancy J Conrad

Art Reception & Photos
Art Therapy
-- Watercolors I
-- Watercolors II
Sewing & Photos
Woodworking & Photos
Activities Director - Interview
QAs the Activities Director of the Upham's Elder Plan, when did you decide to introduce art therapy to the elder program?
AThat started about three years ago.  We had given the women photocopies of drawings of animals and flowers to color.  We noticed the work they did was so beautiful.  There was so much attention to detail.  We thought to ourselves: “I wonder how they would do with paint." 

So we took the idea to Sue Cavanaugh, Clinical Director.  “We’d like to start an arts group as a form of therapy for people with dementia.”  Sue approved the idea. 
QWas anybody trained in art therapy?   What is art therapy?
AAs part of our continuing education, we had attended Alzheimer's Association training programs.  They provide a lot of resources and information around treatment for people with dementia and Alzheimer's disease – activities to use to engage them. This included training on art therapy.
QSo it turned out that art was one of the ways to engage them.  Is that correct? 
AArt was definitely one way to engage and one way to reach people.  Also, some of the participants had been dabbling in art in their youth, and it brought back memories. 
QSo you got Sue Cavanaugh's permission to change what?  Shey were already coloring. What needed to be changed?
AWhat changed is the way the elders were doing the art.  We formalized it into a proper art therapy, making it more therapeutic. 
QWhat does therapeutic mean?
AIt means the activity is not drudgery.  It's not filler, not just something you're sitting there and doing.  It has a theme; it has a function.  There is a reason for it.
QSo in your mind there is a reason but in their mind there is no reason for it.
AYes, there is reason.  This is a project they're working on.  They're taking pride in what they are doing.
QHow did you convey to them that it was a project and that they have a goal?
AFirst, they know they are working on a project.  They already know that you're not giving them something childish to do like a coloring book to color – cartoons or an activity that had no meaning to them.

We first took into consideration that we had to be respectful so it had to be age-appropriate and it had to mean something to them.  The elders want to know why.  One  of the questions they first ask is this:  "Why am I doing this?"
QA lot of the work appears to be water base painting.   Did you direct them to water base?
AWe used what we had which were watercolors.  Besides, this type of paint is a lot safer.  Photos of watercolors
QSo it sounds like you had a few supplies and you allowed them to start doing some art, correct?
AYes.  We started out with watercolors on fabric and on paper.  One of the great things about their artwork is that they used it to express their emotions.  Even if they aren't able to scream or yell or communicate with you, if someone feels pain, you can sometimes tell by the art they do.  If it appears they're having a problem, you can say to them:: "Where is the pain?  Point to the pain." 

Whereas if someone is sitting in the program bored, it's hard to the articulate: “I am sitting here and I am bored.”  Art therapy is a type of escape.  If you are not engaged in an activity, then your mind can take over and frighten you: "Oh my God, what might happen to me tomorrow?" 
QHow did you evolve from watercolors to some of the other art forms?
AWe started out with three people.  Once their work was finished and we hung the work around the center where people could see it, other people started copying the work they saw.  They were excited  Their attitudes seemed to be: "I can do that.  I know how to do that.  I used to teach that." So that's how it began.

QHow did you start your sewing group? 
AWomen from a certain age and certain cultures know how to sew.  That is something they had to do.  Learning to sew by hand was common because they may not have owned, or had access to a sewing machine.  Learning to sew by hand was part of growing up. 
QTell me a little bit about group sewing. 
AIn the embroidery group, all the pieces are individual pieces that are done in the context of a group.  We have themes.  We decide in advance what to work on this week and this month.  Photos of sewing work

For example, we might decide that this month we will work on pillowcases.  So we will get the material and cut the pieces and we will draw on the material.  Then, the participants will embroider.  Finally, we sew the pieces of the pillowcase together.  Another month we might decide to work on cushion covers. 
QHow did you get men to do artwork?    Woodworking & Photos
AThe men's group has always been part of our program.  There are more women than men in the elder program, so the men could feel overpowered within the context of the day center.  So we had something that was specifically for men by men.  That's how the men's group started.
QThe artists who created the three-dimensional objects, where would they have done that?  At the day center?  Did you give them the ability to cut their material? 
AThe material is given to them pre-cut.  If you look at the work, you'll notice that it is made up of different pieces, all different sizes and shapes and even different types of material.  It's like a mishmash.
QWhere do you get your material?
AWe get donations.  Or, I see them on the road and I pick them up off the road.  Some staff donate things to us.  Companies donate and we also purchase.  We go to yard sales in the summer.
QDoes anybody ever give you large pieces of wood that you need to have somebody else then cut for you?
AIf the wood needs to be cut, we supervise the men in doing that work but they never use power equipment.
QHow did you decide to create an exhibition of the elder artwork?
APart of the art therapy was to take the artists to the Museum of Fine Arts to give them a sense of how art looks formally presented.  Last year for Mother's Day, we had an artwork reception at the center.  We also displayed their art in the Boston Seniority Magazine. 

This year we thought why keep this beautiful art to ourselves?  Why not share it with the community?  So that's how the idea evolved.  We started out close to home at the Upham's Corner Library. Next month we will be at the Codman Square library.
QHow are you feeling about the success of your art therapy program?
AThe art reception at the Upham's Corner Library was very successful.  The PACE program was able to convey to the community and to the artists themselves that they are important and they have something to say and contribute to our community.


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