Seniors see art anew through class


On a recent Friday morning, art history professor Val Franco projected the Mannerist painting “Joseph in Egypt” by Jacopo Pontormo onto a screen in a darkened room. About a dozen students sat in rows of chairs, examining the work of art.

Ms. Franco posed questions to the class, asking them what they noticed in the painting.

The movement in the painting, the tension between the figures, the bright red clothing against neutral backgrounds, came the answers from the students.

“Very good!” Ms. Franco said. “This is like a photojournalism shot.”

The professor was not talking to a typical group of students. The class was just for seniors who live at RiverWalk, part of the Hebrew Home at Riverdale.

After “Joseph in Egypt,” Ms. Franco led members of “RiverWalk University” through some famous works by Bronzino, Pontormo’s apprentice-turned-collaborator. She pointed out details like the light reflecting in a young man’s eye and how the painter managed to capture the texture of a subject’s black outfit.

“The darkness allows the face to shine,” she explained while pointing to a portrait of a man dressed in black, with a black background.

Eppie Convel, who has lived at RiverWalk for one and a half years, she said she enjoys Ms. Franco’s art history class.

“As an old teacher, I can tell she’s really good at engaging people,” Ms. Convel said. “Her enthusiasm is catching.”

Ms. Convel, 89, said she has always been interested in art, and the class has expanded on that interest.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever examined paintings in an intellectual way. It’s incredibly exciting,” she said. “I wish I had known this years ago.”

Ms. Convel said Ms. Franco is especially good at helping the class notice the small details.

“She points to things that might not even register clearly,” she said. “She really changes your vision.”

Ms. Franco said she always aims to help people see art in a different way, but she is particularly happy when she can make that impact on her senior classes. She recalled a moment when a few seniors came back from a museum tour and told her they noticed the art in a new way thanks to her class.

“It really kind of blew my mind. It was a really nice compliment,” the professor said.

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