In the last 18 months, both my mother and mother-in-law have been widowed. Although these are two very different women we’re talking about here, they share one thing in common: both are at a loss of what to do now that their spouse has passed on. My Mother has a rich history of making all sorts of things in her domestic splendor: from sewing the majority of my clothes, and formal dresses for high school and college sorority formals, to crocheting, gardening and cooking like a pro. She was a champion seamstress in her day. Both she and my grandmother took on projects together, like making all of the bridesmaid dresses for my sister’s wedding and updating my mother’s veil so my sister could wear it on her wedding day. My Mother-in-Law on the other hand, has never considered herself domestic. She worked as a book-keeper most of her adult life. Her Italian husband did the majority of the cooking in the house and drove her anywhere she wanted to go. As a product of Jersey City, she never got her driver’s license but as someone who craves action and activity, she made it a point to get out and enjoy as much as possible. Two different women face significant changes in their lives with one common problem: boredom. My Mother with her sweet disposition tries to cover up that she spends most of her day sleeping. When I talk to her on the phone everyday, she describes how she’s re-organizing a cabinet under the sink in the laundry room. She wants me to believe that she’s been working on the same cabinet for the last 8 months. I pretend to believe her but try subtle coaxing. “Hey Mom, why don’t we start that quilt out of Dad’s ties?” She says that she has to clean her house before she can take on that project. Hence, the eight month cleaning of one cabinet. My Mother-in-Law doesn’t try to hide it. She declares she’s bored all the time. Her mind is going numb from too much television. She has to rely on one of her children to take her somewhere, now that she resides in the suburbs. A few weeks ago she attempted to walk to the mall on her own. It was a 5 mile walk on a major 4-lane road that took her 3 hours both ways. Both of the women I describe are 80 years old. Both have experienced notable changes in their cognition since the passing of their husbands. Case in point: a few months back I was getting ready for a show and my mother offered to help. I asked her to use a glue gun to attach 5 banners to a pre-cut bias tape. I marked them with a pin, wrote down the space to be left in between, provided the glue gun and sticks. I asked if she was OK, and she said she was. I left to pick up my son and when my sister walked in 10 minutes later, Mom held up the glue gun and said, “How do I use this thing?” My heart sunk when I heard that story. My Mother was the person who showed ME how to use a glue gun!
I had these women in mind as a group I wanted to reach when creating my panels. I grew up in a family of women who were active Makers. At night while watching TV in the 70’s and 80’s, we all had hand-held projects. Anne had a rug hook over her lap. I was learning cross-stitch. Grandma was crocheting an afghan. Mom had something working in her embroidery hoop. Even though the day was heavy with responsibilities and chores, the night provided some pride in productivity as we got our creativity on. Even though both Moms have less responsibility these days, both could benefit from an activity that keeps their minds active. I know there have been studies to confirm it, but I am a firm personal believer in the positive effects that come from making art and/or having an activity on which to focus.
This is the opening of an article that I happened upon recently entitled “Study Says Making Art Is Good For Your Brain, And We Say You Should Listen” by Katherine Brooks:
“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” so Pablo Picasso once famously proclaimed. Though we expect the pompous Cubist was being his usual haughty self when he uttered the well known quote, his belief in art’s transcendent qualities might not be too far from the scientific mark.
New cognitive research out of Germany suggests that “the production of visual art improves effective interaction” between parts of the brain. The study, conducted on a small population of newly retired individuals (28 people between the ages of 62 and 70), concludes that making art could delay or even negate age-related decline of certain brain functions.
Essentially, if art isn’t washing away the dust accumulating on your soul, it might be cleaning up your brain instead.
So whether you’re in the later years of your life, or care for someone who is, making art, making SOMETHING is the stuff that feeds our brains, and ultimately feeds our soul. Personally I find making art the ultimate problem-solving activity, especially when starting from a blank sheet of drawing paper or canvas. There are things to accomplish and a variety of ways in which they can be tackled, therein lies the problem-solving opportunity. If you have either of the Parent cases like I described above (or one of your own), I would suggest that either of these women would benefit greatly from having a creative pass-time to fill their days. In either case, I don’t think that starting from a blank canvas is a good idea. Neither of them would respond well to that scenario. I see greater success coming from a kit, or something like a pre-drawn wood panel. This type of product provides a roadmap that helps build confidence in their ability to do the work. They can either stay in the realm of pre-designed panels or with time and confidence, they can graduate to designing work of their own. That would be the greatest outcome, providing a sense of well-being and accomplishment for aging Moms and Dads everywhere.