15 Jan The Artist Within Exhibit Features the Creative Minds of Artists with Dementia
-Painting by Joan Dolan
The Artist Within exhibit, featuring 51 artworks created by 43 different artists ages 60-101 opened at the Harborview Medical Center Cafeteria March 10, 2016 after garnering rave reviews at the Anne Focke Gallery during January and February. The thought provoking and profoundly original paintings are all created by people living with dementia. The exhibit, the first of its kind in the Northwest, is the brainchild of former Seattle International Children’s Festival director and founder of American Voices Lecture Series, Marilyn Raichle. The inspiration? Her mother, Jean, who forgot she couldn’t paint and began creating “amazing” works of art at Seattle’s innovative dementia day program, Elderwise. “My third act,” Raichle said quietly, referring to this project, her career, and the way her mother’s art transformed her view of Alzheimer’s, “is the best.”
“Art is a way past the fear,” Raichle explained to me.”I showed these paintings to someone the other day and she said,’I had no idea! This turns everything I know about Alzheimer’s on it’s head!'”
Painting, “Orange Meanie” by Jean Raichle
What we know about Alzheimer’s and dementia can be scary:
- Over 5 million people live with it and 1 in 9 will be diagnosed.
- No medication cures, effectively slows, or manages disease progression.
- Incidences of Dementia increased by 71% since 2000.
- Support services are slow in developing and Dementia can be a disease of remarkably long duration.
Family incidence of Alzheimer’s and some Dementias can increase the risk of contracting the disease. Alzheimer’s runs in Marilyn’s family as she writes on her website: “I was raised in the shadow of Alzheimer’s with nearly everyone on my father’s side and many in mother’s developing the disease. We were taught that when Alzheimer’s arrived, it was like a death—actually worse than death. Our parents warned us, ‘Don’t sacrifice your lives for us. When our time comes, just walk away.’ And we all believed it.”
“And then Mom began to paint…” Raichle explains. Art and Alzheimer’s have one thing in common they’re transformational. They hold the power to transform identity and perception or to inspire. The bright cryptic art Marilyn’s mother produced, “opened my eyes to the fact that while her memory was fading, her spirit remained strong, inventive and engaging.” The artworks became Marilyn’s gateway to greater understanding and personal transformation. “I discovered how to slow down and, this sounds so Hallmark-y, but it tapped an ability to love that I didn’t know I had. It got me out of myself to listen and learn the value of real time.” Similarly, she’s hoping the The Artist Within exhibit helps to change the way society sees people living with dementia by inviting us to look anew and meet them as creative people with artistic voices; as artists.
“My mother was distilled to her essence–a happy, sunny personality,” Marilyn recalled, “She walked around all day long with her hands in her pockets and she’d stop and tell people how beautiful they are. I got to take that journey with her.” Not everyone’s essence is sunny and perhaps not everyone with dementia is bared to their essence but something happens in all cases that we generally don’t yet understand. To the lay person it may look absent, confused or just puzzling. With skillful support and access to the universal language of music, art, or poetry though many are finding that a new space opens in the liberation of former identity. Sometimes it’s a spiritual and beautiful place. The artists featured in The Artist Within exhibit give us a glimpse of that vibrant inner space and the profound re-seeing of reality that artists have been sharing with humanity for centuries.
The Artist Within is easily one of the most interesting and surprising projects in my framing career, writes Mainframe who framed and provided logistics for the exhibit. “The artwork is float mounted using Japanese paper hinges, acid free mats, UV conservation glazing and reclaimed Pine frames from Urban Ashes.” Every piece is treated for gallery display and will be returned to the artists. Painting at left by Frank Stone
The Artist Within exhibit is on view March 10-late May at Harborview Medical Center Cafeteria, 325 Ninth Avenue. Admission is free.