Artists continue their creative aging in care facility
Karen Close, contributor
Sometimes life demands you pay attention.
Artist Daphne Odjig will celebrate her 94th birthday on Sept. 11, 2013. Daphne says she was born with a paintbrush in her hand. On Sept. 12, 5 p.m. at the Bohemian Cafe, the Okanagan Institute will be celebrating the life and work of this Canadian creative icon and presenting the portrait of Daphne, done at Cottonwoods this summer, by artist Karen R. Hersey.
I am a strong believer in synchronicity. Observations during three decades of teaching high school English and visual arts seeded my belief in the healing power of creative expression. In retirement, I have eagerly watched the Creative Aging movement and become an active advocate for exploring the links between healthy aging and creative expression.
Vividly Daphne recalls her early teenage years when she had to leave school after being stricken by rheumatic fever.
Daphne began developing her vision and painting skills while recovering and nursing her sick mother. Joyce Odjig had also had rheumatic fever in her teenage years. She died at age 38 with Daphne at her side.
Painting became a life skill for Daphne. It has served her well and may indeed have kept her the determined woman she is today. Although Daphne’s mind remains sharp, the only available bed for her at Cottonwoods Care Centre in Kelowna is in the hall primarily occupied by others with dementia. Daphne is a highly respected Elder within her community and has spent her life pioneering greater understanding for creative expression. I see the magic of creative spirit claiming a role and setting up the next sequence of events.
“My mother has not painted for over 10 years. She stopped when she realized her memory was leaving her in her early 60s.” I proceeded to explain how much fun we were all having, laughing and sharing thoughts about art. Since putting her mother in Cottonwoods, Karen’s daughter has been recovering from a serious car accident and is unable to visit. On the phone, she had felt her mother’s spirits declining and felt very much at a loss as to how to help, both because of finances and her own physical decline.
“Odjig holds an important place among the great artists of Canada,” said National Gallery of Canada director, Marc Mayer. “She is respected nationally and internationally as a matriarchal figure who has captured her people’s voice, history and legends in a unique artistic style.”
Daphne’s numerous awards include appointment to The Order of Canada in 1987 and election to the Royal Canadian Academy of Art in 1989. In 2007 she was given the Governor's General Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Visual Arts, followed by investiture into the Order of British Columbia. She has received Honorary Doctorates of Letters from Laurentian University in Sudbury, the University of Toronto, Okanagan University College in Kelowna and Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops.
Artists "better protected against dementia" study finds. “Neurologists at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto found that artists suffering from vascular dementia may still be able to draw spontaneously and from memory, despite being unable to complete simple, everyday tasks... Dr. Fornazzari said he believes educators should take the findings seriously and encourage schools to teach the arts—whether sculpture, painting or music—rather than cutting back on them... “Art opens the mind,” he said. "It should be taught to everyone. It’s better than many medications and is as important as mathematics or history."