Thursday, May 20, 2010

REVIEW: The Art of Creative Aging at Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier

By Theodore Hoppe

To an earlier generation, two of the most beloved American artists of the twentieth-century were painter and illustrator Norman Rockwell and painter Anna Mary Robertson Moses. Rockwell began his career as an illustrator while in his early 20's, but continued to paint throughout his life. He was in his 70's when he completed a portrait of Judy Garland. In contrast to Rockwell, Anna Moses (or "Grandma" Moses, as she became popularly known) did not take up the brush until she was in her seventies. Despite her late start, Grandma Moses completed an amazing 3,600 paintings over the remainder of her life. She was 101 years old when she passed away. It's a little known fact that the two were friends.

It seems safe to say that both artists would have had no trouble fitting in at The Art of Creative Aging, a juried exhibit featuring the "original work of older artists created since their 70th birthday". The exhibition was the creative idea of Margaret Harmon of the Central Vermont Council on Aging (CVCOA), and is hosted by Kellogg Hubbard Library in Montpelier. CVCOA supports elders and family caregivers in Washington and Lamoille counties, as well as eight other neighboring towns.

Except for the title of the exhibit, one would never know this art was the work of artists in their later years. The art is lively, expressive, creative, vibrant, and full of life. In all, 26 artists and 43 works of art were selected for the exhibit. They include a myriad of artistic disciplines: photography, drawings, sculpture, collage, quilted wall hangings, pastels, and of course paintings in oil, watercolor, and acrylic.

It's regretable that space limits mentioning all of the artists’ work individually. The ones that are mentioned are done so as a sampling of the fine efforts by all the artists. That is the nature of a juried exhibit: the works have all met a high standard of approval.

Pat deGogorza's wood sculptures, one of yellow birch and one in butternut, greet patrons as they enter the library. Grandmother, an almost life-size piece is both strong and sensitive in its crafting. The flow of the figure's garment, and sack it carries, hint at motherhood and children, but the wood itself suggests the wisdom of age.

Jamie Cope's black & white photographs are of very high quality. Mirielle Abeneto is a stunning example of portraiture. The photograph Morgan Irons is a wonderful study of the human form as abstraction, with high contrasting form and shadows.

Bursting, a color photograph by Vera Resnick, provides a vision of "the big-bang" of the micro-universe – a milkweed pod, with silky streams of light released into space.

Anne Sarcka's paintings are everywhere these days, as well they should be. She recently had her paintings on display at two locations in Montpelier and she is currently part of a group show at the Vermont Statehouse, so it might be easy to overlook her work here. Instead, she has provided one of the most dramatic pieces in the show, After the Storm. The artist's judicial use of paint and brush stroke finds a pleasing combination of complementary colors, as a landscape of orange juts into blue waters and a blue sky.

Elsie Reed's painting and the three paintings by Olga Lawson are done in an American folk art style that tells a personal history about life in Vermont. (Sam Thurston recently wrote about Ms. Lawson art work and current exhibition at the Red Mill Gallery for the Vermont Art Zine.) Jane Pincus's Winter, blends a simple winter landscape with a surreal view of seeds nesting in the brown earth beneath the snow. Strata, by Victor Densmore, plays with the imagination as he performs alchemy by turning enamel on sheet metal into lace. Judy Greenwald's Reflections is notable work that truly must be experienced. The brilliant pastel colors form an amazing hybrid of photorealism and abstract expressionism.

Marianne Herlitz, Doris Kidd, and Sylvia Walker each show their artistic versatility in that they all have two pieces in different mediums on display – pastel and oil, oil and watercolor, and acrylic and watercolor. There are also paintings by Ray Brown, a mixed media painting by Joan Davidson, and a photo collage by Sandra Bissex. Chuck Bohn has an oil painting on display, there are ink drawings by George Larrabee, a stained glass collage by John Paterson, Janet Ressler's quilted hangings, a painting by Bob Smith, paintings by Janet DiBlasi, a lovely painted portrait by Ed Epstein, and two watercolor paintings by Jean Gouert.

One artist worth singling out in this review is Mark Markowitt. Mark has been dealing with multi-factorial dementia for a decade. In 2003, he began working with Beth Kendrick, an artist and art teacher who teaches classes at Studio Place Arts. She enjoys working with all ages, from children on up, but admits that she really enjoys working with seniors. Mark's contribution to the show is three beautifully-rendered monoprints, Red I,II, & III. They convey images of a science not visible to the naked eye: perhaps a helix of DNA, a single-celled organism swimming under a microscope, a chemical reaction in the brain viewed by an fMRI.

Dr. Gene Cohen, M.D, Ph.D., author of The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life, writes about observational studies and case reports on the impact of art and art therapy on alleviating illness in the later years of life. He also talks about how imagination persists even when memory starts to fails. His research shows that "although families experience the losses associated with a family member with dementia or Alzheimer's, there are still opportunities for families to engage with the patient in a personal way through creative activities."

Dr. Cohen's research at George Washington University’s Center on Aging, Health, and Humanities has also demonstrated the positive effects of art programs on healthy brain functioning. Groups with artistic participation had "measurably more positive effects in overall physical health, mental and emotional health and social interaction." Quoting Dr. Cohen's book, the brochure for the exhibitions says, "The creative spirit has the power to change our lives at every age." This suggests that we don't need to wait until we're in our seventies to start.

The exhibited artwork is available for purchase by silent auction. According to Margaret Harmon, each artist placed a minimum bid on his or her work; if a piece of art sells, 30% goes to the Council on Aging, 10% to Kellogg-Hubbard Library, and 60% to the artist. To register a bid you can contact Margaret Harmon at, or call 802-476-2681. The Art of Creative Aging will be on display at the Kellogg Hubburd Library until the end of June.

Images, top to bottom:
A photograph of Mark Markowitt
Harriet Wood, The Last of Winters
D'Ann Fago, Fago Farmhouse
Mark Markowitt, Red I, II, and III