Residents of Sunrise of Falls Church have been enjoying the therapeutic benefits and entertainment of making art, and the products of their artistic venture will be on display this Friday at the assisted living and memory care community.
Through a partnership with the local arts organization Creative Cauldron, a dozen Sunrise residents have participated in the eight-week program under the tutelage of award-winning painter and local art teacher Eileen Hecht-Levy, filling a common area of the community with decorated vases, paintings of flowers, and colorful beads glued onto boards, among other works of art. Some of her students are longtime artists and crafters, and others are newly discovering their artistic abilities and interests.
Sunrise is currently home to about 35 residents who range in age from their mid-60s to 104 and vary greatly in the type of care they require. The class includes some of the facility’s Reminiscence Care patients, residents with conditions like dementia that affect them cognitively.
While Hecht-Levy is an experienced arts teacher who for 12 years has led classes for children and adults for Creative Cauldron, she said developing the class at Sunrise was a difficult task.
“I found with such a diversity of people, I had to come up with projects that were challenging, that enhance their dignity, and reinforce the skills they’ve always had, but may have forgotten,” Hecht-Levy said.
On one Thursday this month, Hecht-Levy advised her students in using fabric pencils and watercolors to paint flowers onto fabric. The residents gathered at a large table overlooking the terrace and grounds of Sunrise, the windowsills stacked and lined with the art they’d made thus far in the class. All were given ample encouragement as they shaped and shaded leaves and blooms. Some were given one-on-one help depending on their need, with Hecht-Levy and Sunrise Life Environment Manager Ivette Nolasco dipping brushes in paint, drawing in a few lines, and reminding residents of steps involved in the painting process.
Nolasco says the program is especially beneficial to the Reminiscence Care residents because it entertains them, but also triggers memories that are sometimes difficult to recall because of their conditions. One resident, she explained, can recall painting with his father as a child as a comfort after his mother died. He can also focus intently on making his art. Another resident, she added, enjoyed crafts and jewelry-making earlier in her life, and when showed the equipment she sometimes remembers those activities.
“It’s just a comfort,” Nolasco said.
Reminiscence Care patients are encouraged to take the classes Sunrise offers its residents for such reasons. Sunrise staff members assist these residents during the classes by offering support and praise of their art. They also ask questions to guide them in the now difficult process of recalling memories, sometimes with queries like “do you remember doing this?” to help them make connections with their past.
Assisted living residents are invited to attend any classes that interest them. Nuala Maher, who has lived at Sunrise for a few months, is one of the assisted living residents in the art class.
“It’s for something to do, so I wouldn’t get bored. If you don’t go to the activities, it’s a long day,” Maher said. “There are not enough activities for me.”
The public is invited to visit Sunrise Aug. 16, from 3 – 5 p.m. for a wine and cheese reception to see the art that the residents have created with the artists and their instructor. Activities and Volunteer Coordinator Morganne Davies says the reception is an opportunity for healing for Sunrise’s residents.
“The aging process is defined as a series of losses; you lose your mobility, you lose your health, you lose friends, you lose family members. It’s an important part of healing to be able to recognize your triumphs,” Davies said. “Elevating [their art] to a public level will really help them reconcile these triumphs with their losses, and it’s an important part of their spiritual health.”