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Alzheimers patients create beauty from the heart

August 16, 2012
By RENEE PRUSI - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - When asked about her artwork, unveiled as part of a new exhibit at the Marquette Arts and Culture Center, Judy Stone may have said "it's just a painting," but the smile on her face and the twinkle in her eye told a different story.

She and the other artists, whose works are now on display, were proud to be honored at a reception to mark the opening of the special exhibit.

On display are 13 paintings by attendees of Marquette Adult Day Services, which since 1979 has offered people with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias, as well as isolated seniors, a chance to engage in social and recreational activities in a safe and nurturing environment. By doing that the program also gives some respite time to caregivers, in the long run helping families to stay together longer.

Article Photos

Christy Johnston points to the butterfly watercolor she painted during art classes at Marquette Adult Day Services. Johnston’s work is one of 13 paintings on display at the Marquette Arts and Culture Center through the rest of August. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)

The 13 watercolor works on display now at the MACC, in the lower level of the Peter White Public Library, were painted under the guidance of teacher Barbara Knox, who has experience teaching seniors.

"I have worked with the veterans at the Jacobetti (Home for Veterans) for 13 years," Knox said. "I have the Marquette Art Academy and work with all ages there. With this group, it was interesting to see what they did with the project. I gave them a little guidance in the beginning and it took off from there.

"Each student got to pick out the painting they liked best from their portfolio to be on display."

For Christy Johnston, that was a watercolor of a butterfly.

"I love butterflies," Johnston said. "And I love painting. I really enjoyed this. It had been quite a while since I had the chance to paint."

For Dort Mattson, creating a painting of a brightly leaved tree was a brand-new experience.

"It's my first time painting," she said. "I did the tree because I like autumn. It's my favorite time of year."

The exhibit, which will be available for viewing through the month of August, is something the city of Marquette was happy to be part of.

"We're very excited to host this," said Moire Embley of the Marquette Arts and Culture Center. "The city works closely with Marquette Adult Day Services and also offers a free art class once a month in conjunction with the Marquette Senior Center."

Melissa Luttrell, executive director for Marquette Adult Day Services, said the exhibit is an example of how self-expression is important at any stage of life.

"Research has shown that art can be an important creative outlet for a person with Alzheimer's disease, allowing them to express themselves in a new, non-verbal way," she said. "Use of art helps people with Alzheimer's disease feel less lonely and isolated, can calm their restlessness, and improve their concentration. Art therapy might be particularly beneficial to people with Alzheimer's disease because though they gradually lose the ability to express themselves with words, other parts of their brain that deal with colors and composition can still be used and developed. Even people with advanced Alzheimer's disease can continue to create art."

Of the 13 paintings on exhibit, Luttrell said, 10 were created by seniors with Alzheimer's disease or similar memory loss.

She added this watercolor painting project was made possible with grants from the MGH Brain and Spine Center's Memory Diagnostic Center, The Phyllis and Max Reynolds Foundation, the Negaunee Area Community Fund and United Way of Marquette County.

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.



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