MARQUETTE - Austin Geary didn't hesitate for a minute.
When DeVos Gallery docent Carolyn Snyder asked his tour group what the lady in the close-up portrait photograph was doing, even from a distance, Geary knew.
"She's playing bingo," he said. To the delight of everyone at the gallery, he was exactly right.
DeVos Gallery docent Carolyn Snyder talks about a painting with Dale Payment, a resident of the Jacobetti Home for Veterans who was part of a visit, Gather at the Gallery, sponsored by the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
Along with several other residents of the Jacobetti Home for Veterans in Marquette, Geary was taking part in a Gather at the Gallery event sponsored by the Upper Peninsula Region of the Alzheimer's Association/Greater Michigan Chapter.
"You got it right, Austin. That's it," Snyder said. "You hit the nail on the head."
Geary replied: "I like bingo. I won $9 last night."
The Gather at the Gallery program, in its first year, specifically was designed for people with Alzheimer's disease, said Heather Addison, regional program coordinator for the local chapter.
"We are modeling it after a similar program started in New York City called 'Meet me at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art)," Addison said. "We take a group of folks with Alzheimer's disease and their caregivers through an art gallery for a short (no more than an hour) tour. A docent (museum volunteer) leads the group in conversation about the pieces we stop to look at. The docents are all trained by the art gallery, as well as some specific training from us about Alzheimer's disease.
"Looking at, and talking about, art requires no short term memory and there are no right or wrong answers," Addison said. "This helps to make this kind of outing very relaxing for people with Alzheimer's disease, who are often worried about saying 'the wrong thing.'"
The group from the Jacobetti was the second tour at the DeVos, which is located on Northern Michigan University's campus. The first was from Marquette Adult Day Services in early July.
For the Jacobetti crew, the art work on display drew interested responses.
Snyder showed them a painting called "A Smoker's Break," asking what the individual in the painting was riding.
"A motorcycle, that's what it is," said veteran Dale Payment. "I had one a long time ago. Where I'm going, to the other side, I can do that again."
Snyder asked for comments on the choice of colors in the painting.
"It looks like Indian colors," said Bob Finck. "You have to use your imagination. ... I see emptiness when I look at the painting."
After the group talks about the photograph titled "Bingo Concentration," they then again were directed to a painting, shifting chairs to get a better look as Snyder points to it.
"Cold," George Helfinestine said.
"The painting?" Snyder asked.
"No. The new chair," Helfinestine replied, drawing laughter from the group.
Payment liked what he saw.
"That's pretty good there," he said.
Finck added: "I see heat. It's all the reds. I think it's an old house."
The painting is called "Cabin and Kayak."
"It's interesting what people see," Snyder said.
As they continued their gallery tour, the gentlemen shared memories the works of art evoked. Stories about their time in the service were told and thoughts about parents long deceased brought tears.
One of the group's escorts was thrilled with how it all went.
"We are all so grateful to the Alzheimer's Association for inviting us," said Lori Uuro, an activity therapy aide at Jacobetti. "It's wonderful for these guys to get out in the community. Their personalities may have changed a bit, but they are still the same person inside. It's such a great honor for us to be here."
Addison said the program also is taking place at the Bonifas Gallery in Escanaba.
"Gather at the Gallery has already proven itself successful," Addison said. "The participants seem to genuinely enjoy it. It is amazing to watch and listen as the participants talk about what they see. Often the participants see something new that the docents and I had not noticed before.
"More often than not, the images also bring up memories from times gone by - I always feel privileged to be there for those moments.
"We would love to extend this program out to folks who are still at home with their caregivers as well," she said. "If anyone in Marquette or Delta counties is interested in participated in a future Gather at the Gallery tour, all they need to do is contact our office. The tours are free."
The Alzheimer's Association office can be reached at 228-3910.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.