"I started painting at 88," mentioned one of the men at this weeks art class. Having been a food technologist, he had never painted over the course of his life until recently. He pointed out an abstract on canvas he was working on and spoke about how his painting was very precise and how he loves to paint in layers. He wasn't at all bothered that today we would be painting paper toilet roll dolls!
When I run art classes in aged care, I find that often when people haven't had access to arts and crafts over the course of their lives, they can find it daunting when handed a paint brush. This is why my craft classes are a lot about the reminiscing and less about creating a Monet. I passed my vintage crotchet toilet roll doll around and many remembered having these, or seeing these atop toilets in the 1950's and 60's. One of the ladies mentioned never liking their blank gaze, whilst another found them to be a very feminine way to disguise a toilet roll.
We painted in pastels, pink and blues, much like the colours of bathrooms of the 50's. As the tea man came round with tea and crackers he requested that all dolls be blonde as blondes have more fun, and all obliged in good spirits. Once our paper dolls were dry, we wrapped them around a toilet roll and all left happily with their practical and pretty craft doll in tow.
This month I'm researching and writing about mid-century bathrooms and the boom of the toilet roll doll. Having acquired my very own crotchet toilet roll doll, she will accompany me to aged care facilities as a reminiscence prop. Am in the process of designing a paper doll for us to paint during our craft classes as we chat and remember crotchet, mid century bathrooms and toilet roll dolls.
With the turn of the 50's, post-war exuberance could be seen everywhere: from the bedroom to the bathroom, home décor glowed Pink. Like most fads that seem to appear overnight, multiply en-mass and then disappear almost completely, such was the case with toilet roll dolls. Dressed in crotchet crinolines in baby blue and buttercup yellow, they sat atop cisterns all over Australia.
For full excerpt: From Pink to Posh, Remembering bathrooms past.
Lately I've been thinking about how art and craft initiatives have been funded and implemented in different parts of the world, providing elderly people living in the community and also aged care facilities, all sorts of new opportunities and positive experiences. It's wonderful that the ball is rolling on this. Recently I wrote a piece on Social Prescribing for Starts at Sixty:
Just as we look back to the early quackery of medieval medicine such as snail slime for coughs, will we one day look back on our current mainstream medicalization of society's ill's and wonder why it took so long to consider additional or co-existing options that are organised and funded?
For a full excerpt: Is it Time for more than Medicine?
Last time I visited this aged care facility on Sydney's North Shore, one of the residents requested that our next craft class be Christmas in July themed. At home I made a cardboard Christmas tree for us to decorate by painting decorations to add to it. I started off the craft time by showing the residents a few of my own felt, glass and metal decorations. The ladies noted how glittery there were! We spoke about the sorts of decorations they used to put on their trees, like felted deer, foil balls and nylon baubles. One of the ladies mentioned having a large red flocked velvet deer that sat on the mantelpiece. They all recalled having brightly coloured baubles, so we looked to recreate that in our painting class by painting in shades of blue, green and red, also metallic gold and silver.
The ladies enjoyed the creative process of remembering and painting, and enjoyed watching me add the final touches by bedazzling the baubles with glitter pens before we added them to the Christmas tree to serve as a table centrepiece for their upcoming Christmas in July lunch.
Today's art class was self portrait based. I started of by showing the aged care residents a few bright Warhol prints of Marilyn Monroe and Liz Taylor. A few were familiar with his work, but mostly it was a prop to demonstrate how we would be using colour and creativity to paint in self portraits and portraits of familiar movie stars. As I painted with each resident, we talked about hair colours and styles that people had in their youth. One of the ladies was blonde and bobbed so we looked to recreate that in her self portrait. Another lady started off with a lilac rinse through her hair then stopped and thought more on where she wanted her self portrait to go. She decided she wanted it to be like the can-can: red and fun, so we painted a rose in her hair and a blouse that was varying shades of red and pink.
One of the men had never painted before. He wasted no time in giving Marilyn Monroe a rainbow hairdo and purple eye brows.
This is half the fun of running art classes in aged care; learning a little something new about each person and watching residents engage with the activity and truly enjoy it.
Sometimes music can take you back to a time and place. Why do I feel so good when I hear an old favourite and why do I remember so well the music that I loved as a teenager?
Music can tap deep emotional recall well into our twilight years. Unlike speech and remembering peoples’ faces, which is information stored in specific parts of the brain, music is saved all over the brain and so are the memories attached to those songs.
When running art and craft sessions at nursing homes around the theme of remembering music, this is what I see; memories resurfacing from the past as the residents colour and paint.
To read more on the Reminiscence bump, Music and Memory, click here.
Artists have been painting self-portraits for eons. Early painters like Rembrandt painted self portraits as a narrative of their lives. Picasso's self portraits showcased his evolving painting style, whilst painters like Frida Kahlo and Van Gogh, made their lives and emotions the focus of theirs. Self portraits can reveal everything, or absolutely nothing. The latter seems to be the case with Andy Warhol's. Taken over several decades, his expression remained unchanged; bored. Yet the colours, hair and props popped off the canvas.
Running self portrait based art classes is always an enjoyable craft activity to do with aged care residents. Using a photocopy of each person as the canvas, we paint and add to it, remembering accessories, hairstyles and prints from the past to embellish for fun.
There are more then 1 million people over 65 living in New York. Motivated by the city's growing older population, MoMA is kicking off the month of May with new programs to engage the elderly and give them the opportunity to engage in conversation over a canvas.
A little closer to home, when I run art classes in nursing homes, this is what I see; conversations over craft and an opportunity for people to express themselves even if their communication skills are deteriorating.
It's enjoyable when you run a regular art class and see the residents forming stronger bonds with one another. At a recent art class, we were painting together as a group when one of the ladies said that she was never very good at art or craft. Another resident quickly piped in, 'but you can cross stitch like a dream.' It was lovely to see the companionship between the two ladies, reminding me that it's not only about the art, but about the conversations and care that it elicits amongst the residents.
When I run art classes in aged care, to creatively engage with people and hear them share their stories is always enjoyable. Today's craft activity was based on remembering baking. Whilst handling a vintage muffin tin and browsing though a Margaret Fulton Desserts cookbook, the ladies shared stories of baking past. From green jelly slice to making icing sugar flowers from scratch, all had a story to share. One lady mastered Chocolate Eclairs and they were often requested at social events, whilst another loved making chocolate fudge slice for the kids.
For this craft class I pre-cut the felt pieces and the ladies assembled and layered their felt muffins. All muffins looked delicious and the ladies were happy to work with a new medium: stick-o-felt, and reminisce on times past.
From Coasters to key rings and T-shirts to tea towels, when we travel we bring back souvenirs as gifts and mementos of places we've been to. In the early 19th century, micro mosaic jewellery was a very popular souvenir for tourists to bring home from Italy. Made by setting a thousand tiny pieces of glass onto a metal bezel to make a detailed mosaic image, they were worn on brooches, cameos, earrings and pins.
Currently am working on designing a craft activity around a 1950's souvenir mosaic brooch from Italy. Painting flowers with watercolours is always interesting as you never know which way the paint will blend and run.
I think they would make a nice addition to a coat hanger!
Today's craft class was at Southern Cross Care in North Turramurra. We started by looking at a fishing themed tablecloth from the 1960's. Two ladies spoke of past times around husbands, sons and fishing. We then passed around tin fish shaped moulds from the 1950's. Their eyes lit up as they told tales of using these moulds to bake cupcakes in and make ice cream with. One of the ladies said that when her children were little, they loved it when she made lemon ice cream in fish moulds, giggling that they had fish in their tummies. It's incredible what conversations these props encourage.
We then painted our fish on a dinner plate. Most of the ladies had never painted before. One was a former lace maker and another a cross stitcher. They all enjoyed trying something new as we worked with a stencil to make a fish scale pattern on our painted fish, then propped them up on the dining room wall.
This craft activity is a modified version of Silver Fish that I run as a gift experience from family for family (residents) living in aged care.
Remembering the magic of childhood reads and childhood sweets..
Glucose never looked so good! Memories of our sugary childhood.
Written by me for Starts at Sixty, a news, blog and information website for active seniors in Australia and New Zealand.
“I don't know how to swim,” whispered one of the ladies to me.
Today at my local nursing home we ran a 'By the Sea' art day where aged care residents and a few of daughters school aged friends painted together. Using a selection of black and white vintage beach scenes from the 1940's to the 1960's, we coloured and painted in bold and bright colours. With a set of vintage swim caps on hand, we talked as we tried them on and passed them around sharing our swim stories.
A few of the ladies mentioned that when they were growing up, only people who lived by the sea or could afford to go on family holidays knew how to swim. We compared this to how it is these days, the parents grumbling about early weekend swim lessons for their kids.
We talked about the changing fashion of swim bathers and Esther Williams, who in her hey day swam her way to movie fame. It was a good morning for both young and old. A big thank you to the parents who lent their kids for a colourful, fun and playful craft day!
Angel cake, Banana bread, Date loaf and Vanilla sponge... traditional baking never falls out of favour. Popular shows like The Great Australian Bake Off highlight recipes from bygone eras and the simple pleasures like the smell of a freshly baked sponge cake, making us feel nostalgic for childhood birthdays and family get togethers.
Australia's first food guru, Margaret Fulton, has been writing about baking and cooking for magazines since the early 60's, when it was considered far from a glamorous vocation, even though she flew first class all over the world to bring back recipes to the Australian dinner table. In 2012, a musical was made in tribute to her and her Pavlova prowess, appropriately named 'Queen of the Desserts.'
Recently I acquired a second hand copy of Margaret Fulton's, Book of Home Baking. Many recipes are traditional Country Women's Association-style cakes like Boiled Fruit Cake and Madeira Cake.
I use this Margaret Fulton cookbook and a vintage 1950's muffin tin when running nostalgia and reminiscence based art and craft around the theme of baking. The gift package 'Felt Muffin Keeper' is a craft activity that encourages conversations about baking for family get togethers and dinner parties, from the preparation to the types of foods cooked. It's always interesting to hear stories told as I assist making the muffins with a paper mache box, beads, felt and imitation icing flowers.
Because I said so! Money doesn't grow on trees!
Video games rot your brains...
Exacerbated sayings of the humble parent, often exhaled with hands on hips and eyes rolled back. However, it might be time to scratch the last, as it turns out that a little gaming could be good for you!
Gaming is not just for kids. Studies with the elderly have shown that gaming has many positive outcomes, from improved communication skills and stalling the natural decline of different cognitive skills to good old just making people happier!
Beyond the lull of a glowing screen, games require mental energy to play them. In one study, a car racing game involving a Volkswagen Beetle, required 60 to 85 year olds to multi task; steer and monitor for signs. When played for 12 hours it was found to improve memory and attention span.
Whether it be Angry Birds or the World of Warcraft, it seems the crux of it is to challenge yourself with new situations. As we age, it is important to pursue activities and hobbies, whether it be Bocce, Dancing, Gaming or Golf, each has their benefits, but one which can be done at any age and stage in life is learning how to paint. Creating things engages people both cognitively and psychologically, as one gets to utilise parts of the brain that one mightn't otherwise. Psychologically, people feel good when they make and create.
Painting is relaxing and therapeutic, it assists in mobility through the use of hands and grip. Painting encourages concentration and provides mental stimulation and provides a means of socialising and sharing stories. After all, everyone has a story to tell, a lesson to teach, and a wisdom to share. Life is a masterpiece bound together by your experiences, so you may as well share it with a paint brush in hand!
Inspired by Intergenerational playgroups (see previous post), these April school holidays I'll be running an Intergeneration Art Activity at my local nursing home with the residents and a few of daughters school aged friends.
We will be painting vintage beach scenes with a side of fun!
Here's a sneak peek...
1935, girl and life line, Palm Beach, Australia
1958, Kleinerts bathing caps, Waldorf Hotel
1940's kids at Venice beach
1944, Ice cream break