ABBA’s syncopated rhythms thumped as paint brushes swirled across canvas and wood in the new Assisted Living Memory Care Art Center at Meramec Bluffs, a Lutheran Senior Services Life Plan Community in Ballwin, Missouri. Residents, volunteers, team members, and family members gathered to celebrate the Art Center’s grand opening recently.
“This is an extra special day to commemorate and dedicate this room officially … It is beautiful to see how this space has transpired and transitioned to a place today where we can see so many people utilize their skills and gifts,” said Chaplain Carla Schmidt in her dedication and blessing.
Volunteer Carolyn Dickson created the Art Center, a bright, welcoming space where residents can express themselves through art.
“I really started this for my dad,” said Carolyn, whose father, Caroll, resides in the Meramec Bluffs Assisted Living Memory Care neighborhood. Her mother passed away in December 2022 and she wanted to help him acclimate to the loss. As an interior designer by trade, Carolyn thought art would be a way to connect with her dad, who had been an avid artist and woodworker. When Carolyn learned that there was space available in the Memory Care neighborhood, she was inspired to create an art room.
At first it was just the two of them painting wooden bird houses. “My dad did birdhouses with my daughter when she was little. So, I thought this was something he knows and would get him active.”
While they painted, people started coming into the room asking to paint a bird house, too. Carolyn welcomed them all. “So, I started coming in more often and spending time working with them.” Soon she had regular visitors, and the Art Center was born. The space has transformed with resident art gracing the walls and music – often ABBA – setting the mood.
“Everyone has made a bird house now,” said Carolyn. The candy-colored houses adorn the trees outside the Art Room window. “They enjoy sitting here and seeing the birds fill up the houses,” said Carolyn. Residents proudly point out which house they painted.
The group is exploring collaborative projects like the “button tree.” Over several sessions, residents painted canvases, upon which Carolyn placed tree silhouettes, on which the residents then adorned buttons to represent leaves. “They got to see the project through from the beginning to the end over a couple of days. They’re so surprised by their own ability. I’m seeing them blossom,” said Carolyn.
As a recent retiree, she was happy to put her energy into the Art Center. “God said, ‘You’re looking for something to do? Here you go!’”
She has already enlisted several longtime friends as Art Center volunteers. “Claudia, Cindy, and I go back to high school! Here we still are,” laughed Carolyn. Claudia recently retired from a career in special education and Cindy is a nurse who loves working with older adults. “You want to do something with your volunteer hours that is making someone else happy,” said Carolyn.
When Cindy heard about the project, she immediately knew she wanted to be involved. “I think seeing the residents as artists helps show a different perspective on that individual. They’re a mom, or dad, or aunt, or uncle, or nurse, or teacher, or musician, or a pastor’s wife. It’s fun to find out who they are,” said Cindy.
“I get the best stories,” agreed Carolyn. When a resident first comes to the Art Center, Carolyn asks them about their family. “They might not be able to talk about current events, but they can tell you about their family. That helps to understand who they are.”
Creating art is especially rewarding for Judy, a resident in the Meramec Bluffs Assisted Living Memory Care neighborhood and lifelong artist. Her abilities were on full display at the Grand Opening event as she directed her daughter to blend dark blue and white paint to achieve just the right shade of pale blue for her piece. Meanwhile, Caroll cracked up the room with jokes about the wooden turtle, Myrtle, he painted to have red lipstick.
Moments like these underscore the importance of the Art Center. In fact, whether she’s making art with the residents or grocery shopping, the Art Center is always on Carolyn’s mind. “It’s funny, I think of this as my studio now!” She estimated that she spends “five or six hours” a week on the center. “You mean per day? Everything Carolyn does she puts her all into it. She gives me a lively life,” said her husband, Dave.
The Art Center is funded entirely through Carolyn and donations. Thanks to creativity and a healthy dose of Pinterest, projects can be fun and meaningful using simple things like egg cartons, paper towel rolls, shoe boxes with lids, magazines, buttons, old jewelry, or even bird seed.
“I feel like God laid this on my heart … Things keep presenting themselves to me to keep going with it. So, I’m going to keep going!” she said.