Celebrating Life Throught Art
AAHSA’s Honored Senior Artists program serves as a “tribute to creativity in aging”
Anne Hesse, 65, Baptist Manor, Pittsburgh, PA
Gene Chan Szutu, 87, Lake Park Retirement Residence, Oakland, CA
Dorothy E. Simons, 80, Edgewater Pointe, Boca Raton, FL
By Linda Zinn, Managing Editor

The artwork adorning the walls of the new national headquarters of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA) in Washington, D.C., affirms what many veterans of long-term care already knew: Inspiration and creativity do not die-or even necessarily grow dim-with age. The paintings, sculptures and other works displayed there have transformed AAHSA’s headquarters: It’s not just another office building; it’s a veritable gallery. It all started when AAHSA staff began thinking last year about their upcoming move to a new building. Says Deborah Cloud, AAHSA’s vice-president of communications, “We thought, why should we take along our old, tired posters and prints when we moved? Instead, why not give senior artists an opportunity to display their work and receive recognition for it? At the same time, we could ‘keep residents in front of us,’ as a daily reminder of why we do what we do.” Thus, the Honored Senior Artists program was born. AAHSA put the word out through its membership that it was seeking donations of resident-created works of art. In all, 700 slides or photographs of individual pieces of art were submitted, along with brief biographical information about the artists and what inspired them. Choosing the Honored Senior Artists was no easy task, according to Cloud. She explains, “We had a jury of eight members, which included two art curators, a museum exhibition designer and a designer on AAHSA’s staff.” After much deliberation, the panel chose more than 200 pieces, which are now on permanent display at AAHSA’s Connecticut Avenue headquarters.

Olga Marie (DeLaneville) Sitzman, 84, Place Dubourg, LaPlace, LA (depicts artist’s brother, World War I)
Jane Blair, 74, The Highlands at Wyomissing, Wyomissing, PA
Mary Beston Oleksiw, 74, Wheelwright House, Newburyport, MA
In his foreword to the booklet describing the Honored Senior Artists exhibit, Gene D. Cohen, PhD, author of The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life, and director of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at George Washington University, wrote this of the collection: “Too often, age has been viewed as a cutoff for opportunity, but the entries for this exhibit smash that ster-eotype. When you see work after work in diverse media reflecting the passion of persons in their eighties and nineties-many turning to art only after seven or eight decades has passed-the true picture of potential in later life takes form.”In addition to enlivening AAHSA’s hallways, the exhibit has brought positive attention to the facilities where the artists reside, according to Cloud. She says, “AAHSA sent out sample press releases for them to use to publicize their residents’ artistic success, and we’ve received many newspaper clippings. It’s been a great way to get the word out that people in long-term care are not just existing but are living and creating.” Cloud recalls the excitement staff members felt when the crates and boxes of paintings and other pieces of artwork began to arrive: “They started flooding in during the second and third day after we moved in, and it took two and sometimes three people several days to unpack them all. Most of the pieces were measured and sent out for framing. Then, over a weekend, a team hung and displayed them in time for our dedication and spring meeting.”Created by residents of nursing homes, assisted living residences, CCRCs and senior housing communities across the country, the 200-plus works of art are as diverse as the artists. Watercolors with their vivid splashes of color hang beside framed examples of delicately crafted needlework. Large, museum-quality oil paintings share space with small, exquisite ink drawings.
Arvin J. Woeste, 78, Landsun Homes Parkhouse Village, Carlsbad, NM (an example of the Christmas gifts this resident makes for needy children)
Dorothy Hollinger, 64, Landis Homes
Retirement Community, Lititz, PA
Ursina Hetrick, 96, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital
and Nursing Home, Wabasha, MN
Colorful paper-sculpted fish frolic across the employee break room wall, and cheerful parade scenes give staff members making photocopies something so much more interesting to look at than the wall behind the copier.Twenty-two of the honored artists were able to attend the dedication of the new headquarters and bask in the appreciation of the guests and association members seeing the exhibit for the first time. Some of the artists featured are professionals, but others fall into the Grandma Moses category, never having picked up a brush until long after typical retirement age. Some of the paintings highlight the artists’ poignant family memories and personal struggles. For example, there’s a painting one woman did of her brother who was lost to World War I, copied from the only photograph she had of him-frozen forever in time as a young man in his uniform.
Margaret Busey, 86, Lakewood Manor Baptist Retirement Community, Inc., Richmond, VA
Ruth Tunnell, 72, Franciscan Sisters of Chicago, Lee’s Summit, MO
Margaret Wilder, 89, Heart of the Valley Care Center, Corvallis, OR
Or there’s one done by a woman who lost the use of her right arm to a stroke and taught herself to paint with her left. A few works exhibit more “enthusiasm of expression” than artistic experience, but even those are uniquely charming. Each has its own place and tells its own story. The Honored Senior Artists collection is both inspired and inspiring. Perhaps it will prompt more administrators and activities directors to start art programs if they don’t already have them, thus expanding their residents’ avenues of expression. Individually and collectively, the pieces in this remarkable exhibit speak loudly about the people served in long-term care. The paintings and sculptures and stained glass and wall hangings and other works pay tribute not only to the artists themselves, but also to the thousands and thousands of other seniors they represent-who are still painting or weaving or singing or dancing-in short, who are still celebrating life.
Muriel P. Dowe, 70, Trinity Terrace, Fort Worth, TX
Louise Ellen Grimes, 81, Oak Crest Village, Inc., Parkville, MD
Dorothy Cohen, 82, Mountainside Residential Care Center, Margaretville, NY

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