Every Wednesday for 10 years, artist Barbara Dondero has indulged the minds and hearts of Pines of Sarasota residents.
Dondero’s Art Expressions class is one of the most popular classes on the Pines campus.
For many residents, it’s the first time they’ve ever taken an art class outside of elementary school. Many of them tell Dondero they don’t think they’re cut out for art, but, within weeks, the artwork they produce proves otherwise.
“This isn’t just a class,” says Terri Richtmyer, director of activity services. “Barbara sets a mood. You’re not just in a nursing home. She brings an aroma and aura.”
It’s 2 p.m. on a Wednesday, and Dondero, a former nun and Long Island native, is drifting from resident to resident in the Pines’ sun-drenched art room. Mozart is playing loud enough on the stereo to drown out the din of soft chatter and the sound of markers scratching across paper.
Three volunteers are perched beside residents, including Booker High School junior Hank Brandes, who spent his summer volunteering three days a week inside the community’s skilled nursing and rehab center.
“It’s not like we just roll ’em in and everyone starts drawing,” Richtmyer says. “Barbara takes the class into a different realm. And no matter what they produce they feel successful.”
An exhibit of the residents’ artwork opened Aug. 9 in the lobby of the Sarasota County Arts Council. The show’s organizers hope to move the exhibit to a Palm Avenue gallery in September.
For years Pines artists have raked in ribbons and awards at the Sarasota County Fair.
The Florida Healthcare Association has even included the community’s artwork in its annual calendar.
Exhibiting in a gallery, however, is a new endeavor for the artists.
“It’s all about the right brain,” says Dondero, who in the 1990s pioneered an art program at the Alzheimer’s Resource Center of Connecticut. “You tap the right side of the brain and it all comes out.”
Today’s class focuses on the art of looking inside flowers. Clippings of orchids, sunflowers, daisies and lilies artfully litter each table. Dondero hand-selected each bloom with the help of a florist on North Tamiami Trail.
Dondero walks past Pines resident Virginia Peck, whom she says has a Buddhist’s soul, and comments on Peck’s loose rendering of a lily.
“Virginia gets into the essence of everything,” Dondero says, winking at a quiet lady dressed entirely in pink.
Peck majored in art history at the University of Illinois before receiving her law degree.
She moves onto artist Helen Brennan, who’s bent over a pink Gerbera daisy.
“Helen once drew a trophy,” Dondero says, “and I asked her what she did to deserve it and she said, ‘I made four beautiful children and the best pants my husband ever wore.’”
Brennan nods her head in agreement. Dondero reaches for a Georgia O’Keefe coffee-table book and flips to a painting of a white trumpet flower.
“We’re every bit as good as Georgia O’Keefe, aren’t we?” she asks the class.
A couple of students respond, but most are too engrossed in their work to answer.
“Next week we’re going to draw the insides of pocketbooks,” Dondero continues.
And, just when you think no one is paying attention, someone asks, “Will there be money inside?”
The entire class erupts into laughter.
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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