So often, the prevailing misconception surrounding those stricken with Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related illnesses is that the disease has robbed them entirely of their identity. A group in Delaware County, however, is proving otherwise and doing so through artistic expression.
Beginning Friday, Dec. 6, and running through Friday, Dec. 20, Gallery 22 in downtown Delaware will host an exhibit displaying the fruits of those expressions.
Over the span of 11 months this year, 22 art classes, titled “Memories in the Making,” have been held twice a month at the Delaware Arts Castle. The classes, which feature 16 artists in each class, are designed to allow people who suffer from the early stages of Alzheimer’s to find a platform in which they are able to socialize and express themselves, two acts that can become increasingly fleeting when dealing with the disease.
“The premise is to get people together, interacting,” Yvonne Fisher, the Delaware County coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association, said of the classes. “Sometimes, they’re not able to communicate with words, but they’re able to express themselves through their art.
“We want to increase their socialization, we don’t want them to isolate themselves in their homes,” Fisher added. “We want them to know that they are not alone. So, this group-type activity is not just a hobby, you don’t have to have any artistic ability. But you’re socializing, you’re interacting with others, which helps with self-esteem and decreases depression. That’s the whole goal with something like this.”
The bi-monthly classes were made possible by Greif Inc., headquartered in Delaware, which generously provided the necessary funding for the classes, which began at the Arts Castle last December.
“It’s not about the end result,” Fisher went on to say. “It’s about the freedom to make a mistake, which is what one member of the class has said art represents to him. It’s the freedom to be yourself and express yourself where words sometimes fail … You have to stay active with this disease, and interaction with others is so crucial.”
Bob Huff, one of the participants in the program since it began last year, said he has always enjoyed art and particularly enjoys the structured but varying platform the classes provide for him to indulge in that love.
“You never know what they’re going to tell you to do or what you’re going to be working with,” Huff said. “So, everything is a new challenge.”
Huff added he has most enjoyed the freedom in the classes to conjure up whatever his mind desires rather than simply being told what to create.
“It’s very self-satisfying and, in general, when you bring it home and show it to your loved ones, it gives you a feeling of accomplishment,” he said.
Huff said he would challenge anyone who might believe those who are dealing with Alzheimer’s are limited in their capabilities to try to keep up with the members during one of the classes, which he said include far more than just painting.
As for their work being displayed to the public at Gallery 22 and the recognition that the classes have received, Huff said he has learned that “art is universal” and is excited to see how their work is received.
The classes are taught by Terry Claymier, an art instructor who Arts Castle Executive Director Diane Hodges called “intuitive, very soft-spoken, and nurturing.”
“The people in the class have been great to work with,” Claymier said, adding the group has proven to be quite the comedians full of interesting conversations. “They come in happy to be there. They’re just a joy to be around, and they appreciate whatever we do.”
For Hodges, the classes are equally as important for the relationship between the stricken and their caregivers.
“I think it’s important for the clients and the caregivers, because it gives them a common bond, as far as something to do together that is outside of the normal day,” Hodges said. “It lets them have some normalcy again where they can sit down and do something together and talk about something other than their illness.”
She added, “I think a lot of times, as the illness progresses, they do become more isolated — clients and caregivers — because they’re trying to address the day-to-day needs that are brought about with the illness. And they do fall away from people they may have had in their lives or events. So, this is just a neutral territory where they can come and create art, and enjoy one another’s company.”
Hodges, whose background is in art therapy, said she believes in the power of art “connecting people and doing things that words can’t.”
With the classes coming to close, at least for this year, Hodges said she felt that setting up the exhibit at Gallery 22 would serve as a culmination of the group’s work, while also giving them the chance for that work to be recognized and appreciated.
She went on to say she hopes the exhibit will help others to realize that people stricken with the disease can still be functional and involved, and those truths shine through in their artwork with the brightness, colors, thoughts, and meaning that go into that work.
“I think, too, for the caregivers, it’s something they can see,” Hodges said. “That there is still that person there, in front of them, and there are things they can share and do, and talk about.”
To learn more about the “Memories in the Makings” classes, or to sign up for future classes, contact the Delaware County Alzheimer’s Association chapter at 740-363-1365.
Gallery 22 is located at 22 E. Winter St. in Delaware and is open from 6-8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The opening reception for the exhibit will be held Friday, Dec. 6, from 6:30-8 p.m.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.