A gateway to creativity for retirees

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The Hebrew Home for the Aging at Riverdale is known for its collection of works by household names like Chagall and Warhol.

Now it is putting the spotlight on resident artists, gathering their work for their first time in a show called “Enter the garden of enchanted delights.”

Among pieces by Robert Mangold and Joan Mitchell, there are now works by residents between 71 and 94 years old. 

“In celebration of Older Americans Month, we wanted to create an exhibit of the residents’ artwork. The home is technically a museum, and we wanted our residents’ work to be included in the collection and be seen for as professional and excellent as it is,” said Mary Farkas, director of therapeutic activity at home. 

“It’s a way to honor their strengths, their self-expression, their autonomy… We had a really lovely opening with sparkling cider and champagne, music and flowers, and the artists all got a certificate. It really is a celebration of them,” she added.

Ethel Brown, 89, is one of the artists. Her acrylic 2016 painting, “The Hills are Alive,” was picked as part of the exhibit.

“It’s a painting that I saw in a book and when I paint I love colors, so [I really enjoyed] to have the mountains and the sky and the homes and the church and the pathway that goes to it,” Ms. Brown said.

Painting evokes a special feeling for her.

“When I paint, I feel like I’m on top of the world,” said Ms. Brown. “What can I say? I get a special high when I paint and I feel like I’m up to the sky. It’s so thrilling and so exciting. When I’m not painting, I’m not really the same. I’m frustrated. I could stay in that paint class forever.”

Ms. Brown started painting when she moved from Los Angeles to New York in 2004 and signed up at a senior center where they offered painting classes.

“The first painting I ever did was a lighthouse with seagulls and houses and a pathway,” she recalled.

But she actually started drawing much earlier.

“As a young child, how I first started drawing was from comic books. I don’t remember [which ones] because that was a long time ago. I have to tell you, I’m no longer a young child,” Ms. Brown said with a laugh.

She explained her niece picked the Hebrew Home for her because of all the activities they offer.

“She knows I love to use my fingers and my hands. I love to be creative,” she added.

“My wonderful niece, she buys all the frames for the paintings and she hangs them all in my room,” Ms. Brown continued. She has now been a resident at the Hebrew Home for three years and said she loves it there. 

Ms. Farkas described how daily life at the Hebrew Home is based on routines, even though there is some flexibility in those.

“There’s complete self-expression and autonomy when it comes to art. What color will I use? What shape will I draw? How will I interpret this?” she explained. “So their vision, their expression is fully realized and so it’s really a way to demonstrate their own sense of health and wellness and joy through art making.”

“It’s like food for my soul,” Ms. Brown said of painting.

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