Color Beyond The Canvas

We’ve heard it before. A picture is worth a thousand words. But when it comes to a picture painted by a senior with Alzheimer’s, and the effect that art has on them, one could easily be rendered speechless.

It is true that art is a healing power for people of all ages and in all states of mind. And this was proven in September when staff members of Cedar Roe Neighborhood Library partnered with activity directors from area senior living centers to organize a display of paintings created by seniors with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

A total of 17 senior residents from Overland Park’s Garden Terrace and Village Shalom used techniques including acrylic, pencil, gouache and mosaic to create portraits and wildlife and landscape canvases.

The library also hosted a reception where toddlers and their parents who attended story time could view the display and interact with the senior artists. The result was a positive learning and sharing experience that not only brought generations together, but also gave seniors a renewed sense of self expression.

Lynn Wild, senior services librarian for the Johnson County Library system, describes the event as a profound opportunity for seniors to display artwork in a community space and showcase how creative [they] can be.

The inspiration for this event came to Wild when she heard about an art instructor working at a senior center that hosted a successful art exhibit. She then contacted her longtime friend and art teacher, Esther Galmarini.

Together with other library and senior-living staff, they organized a successful art display.

Galmarini, originally from Argentina, headed the art program at The Good Samaritan Center in Olathe for 23 years. She retired three years ago and is now an independent contractor teaching art at five area senior living facilities.

“The purpose of these senior art programs is not for participants to create a masterpiece,” Galmarini says. “It’s to establish a relationship with the residents. I approach them with love and compassion. If you make them know you need them, they are all willing to help. These patients experience stress, sadness, depression and isolation. The art stimulates them.

“Art is a human need,” Galmarini says. “How many times do you go to a public bathroom and see writing on the walls? Art is not just for museums and galleries.”

Galmarini says there are many benefits of an art program for seniors with Alzheimer’s and dementia. It enables sensory stimulation, personal choice and coordination. They share memories, interact and communicate.

They show happiness and confidence.

“Art truly is a powerful tool of self expression,” she says. “I pray every morning I will be a blessing to them and they will be happy. When I see a big smile, I know it is working.”

Relatives have supported the program as well.

“Family members of the senior patients were very appreciative of the program,” says Wild. “Some of the seniors were artists in the past.”

This program gave them a way to practice their talent again.

One patient in particular, John Cobb, 91, was a former artist who sold his work at the Plaza Art Fair. Now suffering from Alzheimer’s, Cobb may not remember the art sessions he partakes in at Garden Terrace, but it is apparent to family members that he enjoys them.

His stepdaughter Pam Lynch explains, “Over the last year, his art has become much better. And because of the art program and these exhibits, we get to spend time together that is of higher quality than just visiting him at the senior center.”

The event was so well received that another senior art display, this one called “Birds of a Feather: A Resident Art Exhibit,” is showcased throughout November at Blue Valley Neighborhood Library, 9000 West 151st Street in Overland Park, in perfect sync with national Alzheimer’s Month.

For more information on these art programs or other senior activity events in the Johnson County Library system, contact Lynn Wild at (913) 826-4382 or