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Opening Minds through Art helps sisters with dementia

Sister Margaret Mary and her companionnnn looking at a a clay bowl.

Creating art is one way our sisters with dementia are keeping their minds active.  

A program called Opening Minds through Art, offered by the Springfield Art Association, is helping build a bridge across age and cognitive barriers for our elderly sisters. The OMA program was developed at Scripps Gerontology Center, an Ohio Center of Excellence at Miami University, in 2007. 

The program pairs trained volunteers and sisters with the goal of using imagination instead of memory with a focus on remaining strengths instead of lost skills. The program promotes social engagement which over time builds relationships. 

Our sisters created clay artwork designs, which the SAA staff fired in the kiln. When the projects are finished a gala will be held at the SAA and Springfield Dominican sisters and associates will be invited. 

Sister Michaela Collins, who taught primary grades for over 40 years, said her piece reflects time spent in the classroom. 

“The piece is called Ode to First Grade,” she said.

Sister Michaela incorporated alphabet letters, numbers, shapes, and fundamental concepts that children in that age group are taught.  

The eight-week session is a highlight for many of the sisters. 

“I look forward to these classes all week because it's a joyful time for me. I am with others who are doing something they love,” Sister Michaela said while painting her art piece. 

Due to her poor eyesight, the painting activity was troublesome. 

“We didn’t have any trouble putting that piece together because I could feel the clay. This painting is a challenge because I can’t see what I’m painting,” she said while taking directions from her volunteer helper. 

She says she has plans for the bowl after the exhibit. “I’ll put fresh fruit in it somedays and others I will put some candy in it,” she said. 

Sister Mary Linda Tonellato, who once taught art classes to school children, liked using her imagination. 

“Art is beauty to me,” Sister Mary Linda said.

Erin Svendsen, Education Director with the Springfield Art Association, says the program is beneficial to the participating sisters.  

It engages them in activating their creativity, motor skills, and socializing with the community giving a source of joy. The feeling/ emotion of joy lasts throughout the evening. It combats the experience of sun downing, where the disease would usually cause anxiety. This program is set up to give the individual choice and personhood back,” wrote Svendsen in an email. 

“It is beautiful to watch the sisters create, express, and commune with their partners. No one leaves an OMA feeling sad. We celebrate each other for who they are and what they create. We do not let the disease define them.” 

Sister Margaret Ann Cox was working on a sunflower-inspired design and named it tournesol, the French word for sunflower, to reflect her many years of teaching French in the classroom. 

“This is the first time I’m doing something like this. I like art but prefer to look at it,” Sister Margaret Ann said while applying glaze to her art piece. 

Sister Ancilla Caufield who once taught English said she has plans for her artwork, too. “I want to put red apples in it,” she said with a grin. 

The project was a first for Sister Kathleen Kenny who plans to gift her artwork to family members. “I will give this to my niece or nephew and let them have something I’ve made,” she said. 

The program is made possible through the generosity of the St. Joseph's Home Legacy of Care Fund, which is administered by the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln. After St. Joseph's Home in Springfield closed in 2021, it was determined the remaining money would stay within the community. The home was sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception, based in Peoria.

Below gallery is of Opening Minds through Art gala held May 31, 2024 at Springfield Art Association

1 thought on “Opening Minds through Art helps sisters with dementia”

  1. Love it. Just love it. From nearly 84 yr old prayer associate who dies a music orogram on some holidays fur our elderly ladies from upper 70’s to 104 yrs old. We do hymns,patriotic music and classical. Maybe with a bit of big bands if the 40’s And 50’s. Our vintage. Does correction not dies

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