BY JOY STRUTHERS
The opening reception of the Artful Aging Exhibition celebrated aging gracefully and creatively.
It was held on the second floor of the Ashlar Gallery, which is located in a limestone building that used to house the Guelph Civic Museum, and is now called the Boarding House Gallery. The museum was at 6 Dublin St. S. for over 30 years before it moved to a new building beside the Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate in 2012.
It was used for a number of purposes since it was built in 1847, including stores, taverns and a boarding house. The Canadian Legion and the Knights of Columbus held meetings there until it was sold to the city.
Until Nov. 26 the art of eight different local and senior artists is being shown, brought together by art curator Gary Young to start the conversation about aging. The exhibit is free to attend.
“I would like to encourage you all to become involved in the age-friendly movement,” said Wendy Kornelson, program director for the City of Guelph.
The city developed an older adult strategy to help make sure the city is age friendly through the input of many different groups and experts.
They are working to make improvements in different areas.
“Across the world people are looking at their communities and their cities and asking questions. Are they age friendly?” said Kornelson.
The Age Friendly Guelph Leadership Team plans to find ways to better accommodate the aging population. There are eight different domains set out by the World Health Organization that they are concerned with – outdoor spaces and buildings, housing, respect and social inclusion, communication and information, transportation, social participation, civic participation and employment and community and health supports.
The different art pieces depict age-related themes but are all expressions of the artists’ own struggles and joys, what hurts them and helps them.
Guelph artist Wayne Harbin shows his interest in the outdoors in his paintings. He started painting at the age of 64 when his children bought him some supplies for Christmas. He was retiring the following year, so they thought he needed a hobby. He had no formal training.
On the other end of the spectrum is Grazyna Adamska-Jarecka, an accomplished artist who teaches at the Wyndham Guelph Art School and the Guelph Evergreen Senior Centre. She has many local and international honours.
Her work comes from her interest in aging women finding freedom and happiness. She feels that overcoming fear can bring self-awareness and strength.
Peter Howlett believes that colour can contribute to healing the mind, body and spirit. His work shows the spirituality of the First Nations’ culture and honours all living things.
Howlett performed a native drum blessing to bless the land and people at the opening.
Journalist, writer and artist Rob O’Flanagan shared two paintings and his collection of wooden spoons that he made with manual tools from scavenged wood. His paintings were modelled on 50-year-old yearbook pictures of people who have now grown, but their youthfulness is still captured. Instead of the small black-and-white portraits, there is now colour and life and experience.
Fabina Germain is just 16 and attends the DaVinci program, a learning program at the J.C. Taylor Nature Centre in the arboretum at the University of Guelph. She was pleased to support older adults by showing her portrait of her late grandmother.
Germain’s mother, Manon Germain, is the project specialist and acted as the emcee for the opening.
“It’s a tough topic,” she said. “By 2031, 33 per cent of the community will be 55 or older.”
Involving all age groups in this project is important.
Young agreed that aging is a topic most people don’t want to talk about.
“The central vision is to identify and be cognizant of all things in our life that are affected by aging but may not come to the surface in normal conversation,” said Young.
He identifies through his own aging and never expected to live a long life. He has been affected by aging family members as well.
Down the stairway past her own collection of photographic sketches of aging body parts in extreme close-up, came artist Maureen Ellis, performing a piece she calls Bind.
While sharing some negative things that she has experienced she wrapped parts of her body with black cotton binding to demonstrate the variety of emotions she experienced that limited her. The way she was treated changed as she aged and it was horrible.
“I felt like I was raped,” said Ellis, about a medical examination that went wrong.
But there is a positive side to aging, specifically the knowledge and freedom gained through these experiences. While describing some more uplifting thoughts, Ellis took the binding off.
The group was moved by her performance as well as the messages in the art hung on the walls.
Germain addressed everyone again in closing. She had been told something before that she wanted to share.
“Aging happens from the time we are born,” she said.