As Judson Manor resident, Laura Berick, put it, “It’s not a talent, it is an expression. It’s about what color works for you that day.” She would know since she spends time in the art studio every week. She adds acrylic color to canvas, paints over it with white paint if she’s not satisfied, and then begins again, adding more color on top. She builds texture into the canvas this way and will keep going until it feels finished. She will add, subtract, and edit as she goes, sometimes even using beads and grout, to create an original and signature work. She also loves the mood of the art studio, which she describes as quiet and meditative and, “a place to be peaceful.” It allows you to lose yourself in something else entirely for a few hours with a roomful of people. “It’s a feeling everyone needs to experience, at every point in their lives,” she intones.
An article in the Washington Post states, “…creating art is another way to access a meditative state of mind and the profound healing it brings.” Art is a coping mechanism for the changes and challenges that life throws our way. It does not matter whether you can draw a straight line or recreate Monet’s water lilies; it’s just about losing yourself in the process. As Laura says, “The art room is an adventure where you don’t know how it’s going to end. It’s like dreaming.”
Dick Sebastian is another Judson artist, but his medium is cartoons. He spent his early life as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, only taking up drawing and painting in the 1990s after he had retired. His first sources of inspiration were the people and animals of the West Village of New York City. He eventually began drawing for the West View newspaper, as well as the Point Reyes Light newspaper in California. While still in West View, he began painting pet portraits of both his own and his friend’s pets. After he began gifting the pictures, word of his talent spread, and he started receiving commissions for other pet portraits. Eventually, a doctor diagnosed Dick with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 62, and he and his wife Susie relocated to South Franklin Circle in Chagrin Falls where he continues his craft to this day. His wife says that drawing and painting keep him grounded, present, and passionate while they navigate this journey through life together with his diagnosis.
Realizing how important art and creativity is to many residents, Judson maintains two artists-in-residence. One of them, Menna Asrat, attends nearby Ursuline College where she studies abstract painting and works with acrylics. Three days of the week she teaches art history and composition to residents and takes them on trips to nearby museums. She also attends weekly dinners with the residents (which is her favorite!) and discusses art and life with them. She sees the most significant impact when she works in the memory unit, which is no surprise. A large body of research suggests, “…in people with dementia and other progressive neurological diseases, the ability to create art remains long after speech and language have diminished.” She sees mental barriers fall away when they are creating with their hands. Sometimes they will suddenly recall details and tell stories from their lives. Those with anxiety, depression, and cancer also receive similar benefits when they flex their creative muscles. Additionally, creativity bestows improved memory, reasoning, and resilience in healthy older populations too.
Among the many creative residents of Judson, you can find Laura working away in the art studio most weeks. She says it is never overcrowded and quite peaceful. And while Dick’s output has slowed down somewhat, many people at South Franklin Circle have been able to enjoy reading his cartoons on display in the halls. Residents sometimes even pass on their foibles and follies for him to immortalize in cartoon form. As Matisse said, “Creativity takes courage.” Life certainly does too. And we all know laughter is the best medicine!