Catch a Fellow”
“Anne,” a 91-year-old woman diagnosed with dementia, created this exuberant acrylic painting. Her joy and sense of humor are apparent in this acrylic painting. Anne and I did art together at the group home where I worked with her on a weekly basis.
When I first met Anne she did not communicate verbally but quietly, intensely studied me. Eventually as we spent more time together she began to speak a few words. We did acrylics together at the dinning room table in the group home she shared with four other residents. The painting process was slow, taking two to three sessions to complete a painting. Because of Anne’s physical limitations I assisted her with opening the tubes of paint, setting up the palette, mixing colors, loading the brush, and moving her arm to the canvas board that rested on the table easel. Some days she required more assistance than other days. Anne, however, physically painted every brush stroke.
With my support she painted a landscape, a seascape, and this last picture, a vase of flowers that someone left on the table where we worked. Anne was always invited and encouraged to choose and decide which colors and to decide where they would be placed on the canvas. When she had three flowers left to paint, I asked her what color she would like to use. Anne looked at me and thought for a while. Then, with a twinkle in her eye she smiled coyly and said, “Yellow, yellow catch a fellow.” We giggled together. That particular day she seemed especially pleased with herself; she delighted in her work. Later when I recounted our session to her daughter, she smiled and told me that it had been such a long time since her mother had expressed any humor. Anne’s sense of humor was something she had been known for. Tears filled her eyes as she shared how much she dearly missed that part of her mother’s personality.
At our last session in December, the radio at the group home played holiday music. Anne started humming along; I joined her. Soon we were singing Christmas carols together as she painted and I assisted. At one point she stopped painting to share a fond memory from a Christmas long past. This was to be our last time together because Anne soon became quite ill. Sadly, she no longer was able to paint.
Shortly after her death I received a card with a reproduction of her painting, “Yellow, Yellow Catch a Fellow.” Her daughter sent a similar card to family and friends in memory of her mother. The art therapy sessions that she gave her mother those last few months were truly a gift for all three of us—for Anne, her daughter, and most certainly for me.
I dedicate my work with older adults to Anne who confirmed for me once again the importance of art and the creative process in contributing to the quality of life as we age.