I brought Mom some painting supplies today after reading about the 2009 documentary, I Remember Better When I Paint, about the positive impact of art and other creative therapies on Alzheimer’s patients. As I mentioned in my last post, Mom used to be very good drawing, and she did some painting and sculpting as well. We watched part of the documentary on PBS which started at 2:30 p.m.(EST). Mom was fascinated to learn that Rita Hayworth had Alzheimer’s (AD) and returned to painting when she contracted the disease. Mom doesn’t think she has Alzheimer’s, but she said about it, “It’s a devil of a thing.”
Yes, it is.
A professional artist and graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago in the early 1930s, Hilda Gorenstein (also known as “Hilgos”), was diagnosed with AD and went into a nursing home at the age of 90. She was almost catatonic upon arriving at the home, but her daughter, Berna Huebner, physicians and students from the Art Institute of Chicago encouraged her to resume her painting. She produced about 200 paintings during her time at the home and displayed them at a gallery exhibit. Huebner said that getting back to art improved her life one hundredfold. After being asked by her daughter if she wanted to do some painting, Hilgos said, “I remember better when I paint.” Hilgos was the inspiration behind the documentary, and Huebner wrote a book based on Hilgos saying how people with dementia and AD can reconnect to themselves and their pasts with the help of art students who work with them in creating art.
Mom is a Milwaukee native who attended the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago for two years. While we were watching the program, she said, “I’ve been to the Art Institute in Chicago. It’s quite good.” I never knew she had been there.
I laid out an art pad, a palette of colors and paintbrushes on Mom’s portable table, and she dove right in. She started with green, then went to blue, brown, pink and red. She took her time. She took up to 15-minute breaks in between brush strokes, remembering to dip the brush in the cup of water and dab it off gently on a paper towel before resuming her work.
She said, “Who is that composer?”
“Mahler?” I said.
“No, composer,” she said.
“Van Gogh, Manet, Renoir?”
“Renoir,” she said. “Why can't I remember that?”
“Remember your print of the little girl?”
“Marie Beraud,” she said.
I looked it up on my Iphone. The girl’s name was Marguerite-Thérèse Berard but close enough.
“He painted her after her German lesson to cheer her up. She was crying,” Mom said.
She was right. I showed her a picture of the painting on my Iphone.
Marguerite-Therese (Margot) Berard by Renoir
“What a beautiful girl,” she said.
“Yes, she was.”
“Can we look for Lidia?” she said.
We usually watch the cooking show Lidia's Italy on Sundays at 2:30. It was 3:00 p.m., so no Lidia. I channel-surfed and found Sex and the City, one of Mom's favorite shows, and we watched reruns of that for a couple hours. She painted and we talked intermittently.
“Would you like to go to a museum one of these days? Maybe the Met,” I said.
“Yes, I would like that.”
As it was getting close to the 5:00 o’clock dinner hour, I asked Mom if she wanted to continue painting, and she said she had had enough. I told her I liked her painting, but she said, “It’s not any good. I was just messing around.”
Mom's painting, February 5, 2012
Her favorite aide Miriam came to her room, and I showed her the picture. Miriam told me that they have arts and crafts almost every day, but Mom usually doesn’t want to go. I told her that she likes me to take her places. I pinned the painting on her wall with pushpins next to her animal calendar.
“It’s just a beginning,” she said.