Spreading their wings through art

Perley Health creative arts instructor Cynthia O’Brien works on the exhibit.
Photo: Gillian King
Perley Health long-term care home residents at work in the clay studio. Yolanda Robertson (left) contemplates her swan. Paul Louiseize (right) adds glaze to his Mourning dove, while Kathleen Cronier (middle) sees eye-to-eye with her Barnyard owl.
Photo: Gillian King

By Judy Field

Birds have the freedom to soar, and residents of the Perley Health long-term care home have taken this freedom to new heights. “Wingspan,” an exhibit currently on at the Ottawa Art Gallery, features thematic artwork of birds that residents did during the pandemic.

Given that Perley residents interact with birds year-round – from building bird houses in the woodworking studio, feeding birds in the courtyard and birdwatching (especially during lockdowns) – the inspiration for the exhibit was born.

Through the Perley’s Ozerdinc Grimes Family Therapeutic Recreation and Creative Arts program, residents are encouraged to express themselves with paint, wood, sculpture and ceramics.

Perley Health creative arts instructor Gillian King sets up the residents’ art as part of the “Wingspan” exhibit at the Ottawa Art Gallery until May 22.   Photo: Cynthia O’Brien

“We make art here every day,” says Gillian King, Perley’s creative arts instructor. “[The exhibit] expands peoples’ knowledge of what can happen in a long-term care home and what we do day to day to give life meaning and give life purpose.”

Seniors can participate in the different art modalities available when they move in to the Perley, and many come to the studios with little or no previous art experience. In 2020 at age 67, resident Paul Louiseize started to paint and was then introduced to ceramics. “Art has always been inside of everybody,” he says. “Everybody has it. You got to let it out.”

In preparation for this exhibit, residents transformed slabs of clay into their birds of choice. Pounding the clay with mallets and then using rolling pins, they learned to use new tools to affix wings and etch facial features. Choosing colours from the variety of glazes available sparked much discussion and encouragement among residents around the studio table. Residents also created paintings and sculptures for the exhibit. “There are a lot of really beautiful and rich conversations that came out of making works for this show,“ said King.

“Wingspan” runs until May 22 at the Ottawa Art Gallery.

Judy Field volunteers in the Perley Health’s Creative Arts Studio and loves working with the residents. She is the long-time advertising manager for the Glebe Report.

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