Finding Humor

Today, my Elderberry Club partner and I worked on the ‘Additive and Subtractive’ painting project. For the additive piece, she wanted to draw her cat. However, what first started out as a cat turned into this really abstract painting composed of dots and spirals. She was joking about how she stopped drawing her cat when she got to its belly and butt. I actually really liked the change of aesthetic. I think that made the piece much more intriguing and artistic.

There was a funny miscommunication during our critique because of this change of subject matter. The staff leader asked us what her pieces were about, as they were very gestural and abstract. My partner immediately replied “Well, it’s a painting of my cat’s butt!” Everyone laughed because it was such an unexpected response and because the pieces hanging up looked nothing like what she claimed it was! The laughter was nice moment in our critique and a reminder for us all not to take our art so seriously.

~Grace, Art & Design student


A Study in Individual Style

My two members never cease to surprise me with their creativity and positive attitudes. The great thing is that that is where the similarities between them end, because they are very different individuals with very distinct styles.

I noticed this right upon meeting them. The first member always takes a moment to pause and think about where to make her mark on the page. After a few pensive and still moments, you can always count on her to say that the image “needs something.” Her work tends to be minimalist, orderly and thoughtful, and she rarely needs suggestions. Her pace tends to be very slow and steady since she balances her creative time with careful planning and thinking.

On the other hand, the other member attacks each new project with unbridled zeal and joy. He often does two or even three pieces in the short amount of time that we are allotted.  He has a little more trouble with fine motor skills, but paired with his outstanding energy and attitude, this often results in very free marks in his work. I’ve noticed that he responds really well to and is open to minimal suggestions, such as how to manipulate media in a different way.

After observing this for a few weeks, I decided to tailor a particular project to the way each of them likes to work. It was a simple Mondrian-inspired piece that involved taping the paper off into rectangular sections and painting with primary colors. For the female member, I made sure to make more boxes for her to fill in because I knew she would enjoy organizing the colors, while I gave the other member larger spaces because he enjoys the act of painting more than planning. I also gave each of them different tools. The precision-driven member was given fast-drying paper and a small brush ideal for the exact marks that are a hallmark of her style. Conversely, the stylistically energetic member was given slow-drying Yupo paper so he could make printed patterns with paper towels and other materials after painting. Both members really seemed to enjoy themselves, and the work they made that day really showcased their respective styles.

-Megan Mulholland, Art & Design student

A response piece to Lisa Genova’s Still Alice

I think my reaction surprised me more than anything else.

Usually movies will get me, RARELY television shows and NEVER books. But this one did.

As I came to the final chapters of “Still Alice” I reached the most pivotal, climatic part…..  and just cried. I couldn’t stop the tears that rolled down my face as I kept turning page after page. I kept wiping my eyes in hopes that I would be able to see the words on the page to finish the book, but the slow tedious process only led me to misty eyes again and again. I cried until I reached the very last word on the very final page.

Never would I have thought that I would have such a strong emotional reaction to this book. I have always been kind of indifferent to the disease. My great grand mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when I was just finishing up high school. I had heard about the severity of the disease before, seen movies about it, and heard student presentations on it, yet I was emotionless. I guess I took it as “this is just something that happens and you just deal with it”. But looking back, I never fully understood what it was: this internal fight to retain the person you have created after so many years, only to watch yourself disappear in less than half the time.

This course has really forced me to stop and think about how much my great grandmother has changed over the years. Now she lives with my grandmother who, I know, has a hard time seeing her mother like this.  And my absence, being all the way in Michigan for large chunks of the year, has left her with almost no recollection of me when I return home to California and go to church with her every Sunday.  The biggest difference in my acceptance of the disease versus my grandmother’s, would probably be that I am not her constant caregiver. Other than interacting a lot with her on the few Sundays and holidays when I am back home, I do not have to deal with the disease consistently at all.  Which I think, has greatly kept me me emotionless.

So my reaction to “Still Alice” shocked me, to say the least.

I think the realization of what THEY have to go through just hit home to me. Not being able to be the person you were. Stripped of all your abilities, physically and mentally. People treating you drastically different. Not being able to formulate your own thoughts. Lost in your own mind.

It wasn’t that I was sad that she was diagnosed with it… it wasn’t that I was sad that this disease is so terrible…I was sad for those who have to suffer through it because I could not even fathom that daily suffering.

As I closed the book and wiped my blood shot red eyes dripping with soggy mascara, I realized how many times I had cried about it (zero) versus the amount of times my family and I have all laughed at the situation (too many to count). My great grandmother is still the spry, ballsy, little woman I used to know. Though she set a lamp on fire last winter break, can get totally fixated on one thing, and randomly gets up and dances in front of the pulpit at church, she is still just as bright and lively as I remember her just a few years ago.

I think the biggest factor in understanding dementia, is being able to find that connection to spark their ability, so just for that moment you can look right into their minds. I try to take this into the Elderberry center each week when I work with my member. If I can find just one thing that clicks, one connection that either makes them understand or gets them to really laugh, then I feel like I have succeeded.  I really can’t tell if the members appreciate us being there to just spend time with them, but I am not looking for a pat on the back or recognition. I am looking for a smile on my member’s face and a single moment each week that gets me thinking… no Alzheimer’s will defeat this spectacular, full life.

~Keyana Thompson-Shaw, U of M student



Painting with Ink: Connections

Today was an exceptionally good day with our visit to the Elderberry and Silverclub members.  When working with my member today I could very clearly see that she was enjoying what she was doing.  We worked with how ink travels in paths left by water on the paper.  There is a degree of surprise to this sort of work, and we both enjoyed seeing what would happen, and it was gratifying to find that we were both laughing and genuinely enjoying what we were doing.  I have never had a bad day with my member, but today was particularly good.  I was also particularly impressed with her transformation of a simple yellow circle into a sun, then a sunflower, and then a sunflower garden casting a shadow.  It was abstract thinking, but really creative in its ability to connect all aspects of what we did today.




Additive/Subtractive: A Student’s Perspective

Yesterday was a great day at the Elderberry Club. I’ve never seen anyone appreciate color like my member; her ecstatic reaction to the combination or presence of a single bright color is so pure and beautiful.

The project design consisted of two painting pieces- one additive and the other subtractive. We used india-ink as our medium and applied it with a paintbrush onto our Bristol paper. While we were provided red, blue, and black, I knew that we wouldn’t use black. She was pleased to have the options of colors- instead of a single blue or black like in previous projects- and begun with a red along the periphery, varying in intensity, then we moved to blue, and finally decided to mix a purple.

When we moved on to the subtractive component, I was a little nervous that removing pigment might not be as much of an intuitive process for my member. I am going to assume that, though many Elderberrys have been artists throughout their lives, this subtractive process was fairly new technique. My member learned a new technique today- she used unconventional tools to remove pigment, which I applied with her instruction. She demonstrated a great deal of courage in her approach to this new and unfamiliar skill.

The scratching and wiping away created a unique texture and overall composition. I think we were both very pleased with her results. She was so encouraged by her creation that she made another. Her series of three are amazing.

-Alicia, Student in Art&Design and Program in the Environment


Shibori: The element of surprise

Our third visit with the Silver Club and Elderberry Club Members explored Shibori, a Japanese cloth-dyeing technique.  Working together, students and members twisted and shaped pieces of cloth into bundles using rubber bands and twine.  The fabric was then dyed in an indigo bath and unwrapped to reveal the beautiful patterns.  Both the students and members were eager to see the result of their handiwork and happily surprised with the end result. The element of surprise became a shared experience, one that everyone enjoyed together.

~Anne Mondro


POP Art from 19 to 90

For the next four weeks students are working in teams to develop creative experiences for the Elderberry and Silver Club members.  This past week Cara, Emily, Grace and Sammy introduced a Pop Art project.  Working with bright colored paper and a variety of stencils depicting images of everyday objects, students and members created their own Pop Art piece.

Earlier in the week we discussed age segregation in today’s society so during this visit, I paid particular attention to the different generations working together. A Silver Club member in her nineties working side-by-side with a nineteen year-old student reminded me of the necessity for intergenerational learning.  Learning from each other and sharing moments together.

~ Anne Mondro 


Beginnings: Paintings

After several weeks of readings and discussions on creativity and dementia, the students were ready for their first visit to the University of Michigan Turner Senior Resource Center to work one-on-one with the Silver Club and Elderberry members.  During the visit the students and members spent time getting to know each other as they created a watercolor and tempera painting.  As they learned a bit about each other, the students guided the members through the process to create their paintings.  As brush strokes of color were made, conversations emerged and tension eased.  Inspired by some of the memories shared, the members’ paintings capture garden landscapes to dynamic energy through color, line, and pattern.

~Anne Mondro, Associate Professor, Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, U of M

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