The 10 weavers at Ecumen Lakeview Commons sat at a table in the lobby proudly showcasing their work. They had just finished a six-week weaving class and today was the public presentation.
Smiles stretched across the room as the weaving artists described what they had done and why. Lois made a winter scarf for her granddaughter who was having a bad day when the class first started. She also weaved a runner for a coffee table where she keeps her wedding pictures.
Ferne weaved a bright orange cloth that reminded her of a sunset. Jan made a runner for the back of her sofa.
“I’m so proud of them,” said Jen Rasmussen, the Director of Therapeutic Recreation at Lakeview Commons. “This was one of the most wonderful experiences I have been a part of in my 20 plus years in the field. I love seeing them smile and how proud they are of their work.”
The weaving 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 watercolors conducted by artists from COMPAS, a nonprofit organization promoting creativity and arts education.
The weavers worked for two hours a day, three days a week for six weeks under artist Chiaki O'Brien, who teaches the modern Japanese weaving style known as SAORI — an approach that encourages self-expression.
“I only taught them how to use the loom,” Chiaki said. “This is their self-expression. You can’t do anything wrong. Whatever you do can become part of the design. There is no pressure.”
Jen said when she first heard about the class, she worried it would be too complicated — as did some of the residents. Several residents watched before they started participating and when the class was well underway, as many people were watching as participating.
“It built community,” Jen said.
As doting fans praised her work, Lois said: “It looks more complicated than it is.”
In their final evaluations, residents who participated in the program said not only did they learn a new skill, but also they made friends, gained confidence and felt more alert and happy.
One of the participating residents passed away during the sixth week of the program. Her project was completed and presented to the family who placed it by the memory table at her visitation because it was so special to them.
Ecumen has been working with a number of artists at several Ecumen sites in recent years under the umbrella of a partnership with ArtSage, a Minnesota nonprofit that connects artists and the arts with aging. ArtSage offers training programs, consulting services and other resources for artists and organizations who want to bring high-quality art experiences to older adults.
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.