The chance to work closely with artist and art workshop leader, Deborah Feiler, from Alive! Activities was a great opportunity to learn more about the potential of creative processes to elicit memories and personal stories from residents in a care home setting.
Starting with a series of three workshop sessions, Deborah and I were helpfully given a research question to frame our creative explorations with the residents: Can older people make objects which are meaningful to them? Some other questions we also hoped to consider included: Does a story have to be told with words? Can art express a memory? Can a collection of objects work together to express a memory? How can the creative process contribute to a better understanding of the individual, in a care home setting?
In our first session, we held one-to-one conversations with the residents, listening to stories about defining moments in their lives, such as a wedding day or the birth of a child, as well as everyday moments, equally lasting and vivid, such as a love of reading, or what the view looked like from the front of their house.
With these personal histories and meaningful details noted, Deborah and I then collected objects and images related to the conversations (where none of their own were now available) in order to use this material as visual inspiration during the second session.
In week two, the residents began to paint from their memories, taking symbolic personal moments onto the paper:
In the final week, some residents continued to paint, while the option to draw directly into wax was also available, with the offer that this could be cast into a more lasting material such as bronze. For one resident, periwinkle flowers were particularly significant, and she seemed to welcome the opportunity to work in different materials:
At the end of the final session, while we were clearing away the art materials, Deborah used the iPad to play Vivaldi’s Summer, as one of the participant’s had talked about this as their favourite piece of music. It certainly looked as if this season was somewhere in mind by the warmth of her painting:
The vibrant sounds of the music led to a delightful and spontaneous sing-a-long from the residents around the table. It seems that one of the beauties of this process has not only been in the rediscovery of people’s personal memories from the past, but equally in the making of new memories, through the recollections and creativity we have shared.