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A Fine Line by Janice Kleinschmidt

Mindful Art

Memories in the Making uses painting as a way to help those with Alzheimer’s disease

A member of the golf club, tennis club, athletic council and National Honor Society, Elinor Murphy also served as class secretary and president. These days, she resides at an assisted-living facility in Carmel Valley, where she painted Spring, one of 18 paintings paired with works by professional artists and auctioned at Memories in the Making, a fundraiser of the Alzheimer’s Association’s San Diego/Imperial chapter.

Elinor’s work inspired professional artist Ellen Dieter to paint Spring has Sprung.

“I was drawn to the simple marks and colors,” she says. “They felt happy and very full of energy and hope.”

Elinor and Ellen’s works were sold as a pair in March during the live auction portion of the 17th annual Memories in the Making that attracted some 300 guests and raised $150,000 — a record for the San Diego event.

“The program started with the Orange County chapter in 1988,” says Mary Ball, president and CEO of the local chapter. In San Diego County, 30 senior living and care facilities serve as host sites and submit paintings made by Alzheimer’s artists for auction selection. Classes also are offered at the Alzheimer’s Association’s Clairemont Mesa offices. “Eighty-five percent of people with Alzheimer’s are cared for at home, so we are expanding the program so that they can participate as well,” Mary says.

The 2014 auction encompassed 70 works by Alzheimer’s artists, 18 of which were paired with works by professional artists.

“We go through a jurying event in which hundreds and hundreds of Alzheimer’s art are reviewed by professional artists and community members. We invite artists who have done pairings in the past, instructors, our board of directors, and volunteers who have been involved with the program,” Mary explains. “The facilities send in artwork that has been created throughout the year, so there is a large volume of work.”

Paintings that are not selected are returned to the facilities, and professional artists view the chosen works to single out one that inspires them to create a companion piece. The two works are auctioned off as pairs. This year, 11 of the 18 artists who created paired works had participated in prior Memories in the Making auctions.

Grace Ann Swanson carved and painted a gourd inspired by Taeko Doi’s Something in Water. Eider de Mello painted a surfboard inspired by Harold Dickman’s Sunset Surfer. And Jen Frazee Rodi made a succulent garden inspired by Sylvia Kurasch’s Beautiful Flower.

“My mother was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 60,” Jen says. “The association offered the support and educational direction we needed to navigate the uncharted territory ahead.”

“A number of the professional artists [that create paired works] have a connection to the diseased with a loved one,” Mary says. “Typically, once they are involved with Memories in the Making, they come back year after year. Some artists reach out to us and want to be involved. Conversely, we will hear from people in the community about an incredible artist and we will reach out to them.”

The subject matter of the artworks in this year’s auction ranged from abstract to figurative.

“Oftentimes, it’s landscapes. It’s places with houses. It’s a pet. Typically, when a family member sees that piece of art, they know what the artist was trying to communicate,” Mary says.

Nine local framing companies donated frames, mats and framing services for the paintings exhibited at Fairbanks Ranch Country Club on the evening of the fundraiser.

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Many of the Alzheimer’s works focused on flowers and trees, a lake or ocean, birds (even a family of penguins), skies, and animals ranging from a house cat to a tiger. The overriding theme appeared to be serenity, joy and humor. Abstract paintings, in addition to Elinor’s Spring, bore titles such as Busy in Brooklyn, Hula Hoops and It Can’t Make Up Its Mind.

Displayed with each painting was a card from which the viewer could learn the artist’s name; the facility where they created the work; and something about them personally, such as where they grew up, their career before retirement, how many children they had, traits of their personality and what they enjoy doing.

The card for Cindy Jenkins, who painted Tiger in the Snow, for example, revealed that when she worked for a potato farming company in Idaho, she was known as “The Tator Tot Queen”; that she spent a night out with girlfriends at a resort where they met Bruce Willis; and that when she was Kurt Russell’s neighbor, he would play her grand piano and they would walk to a bar called The Yodeler.

The card for professional artist Sue Turnbull said that Cindy’s painting reminded her of “the similarities we still have as humans despite being stricken with a disease such as Alzheimer’s.”

Mary thinks that what surprises people the most when they see the exhibitions is that almost all of the Alzheimer’s artists hadn’t painted before Memories in the Making and, yet, “they’re able to produce incredible pieces of art.

“They may no longer have the ability to speak or walk,” she says, “but they can paint.”

Artwork that did not sell during the Memories in the Making auction will be available for purchase at the Alzheimer’s Association’s holiday open house in December.

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