Elders’ Art Worth Trip to deYoung

One of the best exhibits in San Francisco’s de Young Museum sparkles more than the intriguing, well-advertised, major exhibit, “Hatshepsut: From Queen to the Pharaoh.”

I am talking about the paintings, mixed media and watercolors done by elders that line the hallways and fill the Media Room on the museum’s lower level. I am not the only one who is enchanted. The Oct. 19 reception for “Elder Arts 2005” filled the expansive Wilsey Court with artists, their families and admirers, and art instructors.

“Elder Arts 2005” is “A Triple Art Event” honoring a Bay Area Elder Artist of the Year and showcasing selected works from two visual arts programs, “Art for Elders and Elder Arts Celebrations. These programs are the creative endeavors of the San Francisco nonprofit ELDERGIVERS and its executive director, Brent Nettles.

Fourteen-year old AWE places some 88 professional art instructors in 32 Bay Area long-term care facilities to teach weekly two-hour classes. The facilities run the gamut from San Francisco’s 1,200-bed Laguna Honda hospital, where 100 long-term residents enjoy classes, to Danville’s Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living and Palo Alto’s Lytton Gardens.

While AWE participants may be previously untrained in the visual arts, EAC members are elderly alumni, faculty or students who have been or are currently taking classes in Bay Area art schools.

Amid the merriment, I caught up with Robin Meyers, program director for AWE. “We are not offering art therapy, but real art classes that build skills, enabling participants to discover their unique creative abilities,” she said.

The San Francisco Art Institute’s director of community programs, Erez Golan, added “The classes are about art, and the friendships that develop and the lessons learned from these extraordinary students.”

While examining each art-work and the accompanying, carefully written biographical information about the artist, I noticed an elegant watercolor portraying a boy fishing by a lake. I asked whose picture it was. Barbara Darcie, from Central Gardens convalescent hospital, beamed with pride, as she claimed her work. The show runs through Nov. 9.

On my way out, I discovered yet more treasures. The Life Stories Project, also from ELDERGIVERS, pairs Bay Area professional writers with seniors residing in nursing homes. Rewarding connections result as the writers ask questions, listen and record the elders’ life struggles and hard-won wisdom. Select stories are published in two volumes, titled “Nine Lives” and available for purchase from the ELDERGIVERS.

And who is artist of the year? No less than the renowned Wayne Thiebaud.