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The lobby of Ecumen Lakeview Commons in Maplewood was recently transformed into a colorful gallery to celebrate the art of residents who had just completed a watercolor class.
Their teacher, artist Pat Owen, moved around the show offering compliments, support and encouragement. The residents showcasing their work seemed to share a common trait: an abundance of modesty.
The artists said they loved the class, but most remained self-critical of their work. Pat says this is normal. Her first hurdle as a teacher is convincing students they have ability as she deals with the common refrains of “I can’t paint” and “I’m not creative.”
Pat believes everybody has creativity and her job is help them find it. She says she loves the fresh approaches of novice painters and the diversity of their art. While she teaches basic skills, she also teaches confidence. “I hope the class learns enough skills and gain enough confidence to continue if they want to,” she says.
Resident Shirley Springer likely will be continuing. She excelled in the class and enjoyed it so much that her family bought her paints and brushes. Shirley said the class helped her get back in touch with painting. “I did it 40 years ago,” she said, “then I got busy and stopped.”
The watercolor class was funded by a $14,300 grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board and is part of a year-long program at Lakeview Commons including classes in puppet-making, songwriting, fiber arts and weaving conducted by artists from COMPAS (Community Programs in the Arts) – a 40-year-old statewide, non-profit arts organization with extensive experience bringing creativity and new skills into the lives of older adults.
Pat has been teaching for the past 10 years. She gave up her career as a psychologist when she was 50 to pursue her own artistic dreams. First, she joined the Peace Corp and went to Senegal, where she did a daily graphic memoir. When she returned, she started teaching classes.
Her approach is to give students an opportunity to experiment with different painting styles and different subject matters – in order to find their own inspiration. Each week during the six-week class the students would concentrate on a specific subject and technique.
Not only did the students benefit but so did the Lakeview Commons activity staff, said Jen Rasmussen, Lakeview Commons Director of Therapeutic Recreation. “We learned as a team how to make our watercolor activities better,” she said.
This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.