The following is a guest post by one of our Featured Authors, and an accomplished weaver and fiber artist, Aneesha Parrone. This article is the first installment of articles about Aneesha’s work with residents of an assisted living facility. These residents are senior citizens and elderly adults who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The following article describes her journey of leading group art activities with seniors at an assisted living facility. It’s a wonderful story and we’re looking forward to reading the upcoming articles!
Group Activity With Art as Therapy – Weaving with Residents of an Assisted Living Facility
When I walk into the room, several women are selecting yarns, untangling skeins. More wander in, some in walkers. There is a grace hanging about the room. Their smiles are gentle, quietude pervades the room. It is not energy of silent lack, but that of a garden gently swaying in the wind. Some of the people remember that I came a few weeks ago. Others smile and ask questions, “What is your name? What are we doing today?”
I return the grace of smiles with a smile and let them know my name. “We will be weaving today.” Here in the assisted living residence, I am very aware that we are not the events of our lives. We are full, lovely human beings. For many, the present “event” carries the name dementia, for others Alzheimer’s is the declaration. Each person has lived a life valued and honored.
One woman wants to weave with a particular yarn. I show her how to make a butterfly bobbin by wrapping the yarn around her thumb and pinkie finger in a figure eight. I show them all how easily the yarn unwinds as we need it. She expresses her gratitude. Others smile and beam how wonderful that is! Ten minutes later, my friend asks again to be shown how to make the butterfly bobbin. She lifts her hand and I begin the bobbin; she completes the process.
Providing a balanced art experience is one of reciprocity. We have come together for a short while to share an experience that involves looms, both frame and table looms, yarn, smiles…and slowly we are experiencing a relationship of joyful sharing. We all have stories that have given us joy or sadness. We have a genuine sharing and interest in each other. Connections begin; an inner tapestry gathers invisible threads.
Several months ago I had begun my visits to the assisted living residence in a nearby town. When I began, I came to demonstrate and ended up inviting participants to weave. We began with my story. After giving a brief overview of my history, they wanted to know more. I would give a few sentences of history and ask a question. Some responses arose. They would ask questions: Questions, sharing…questions, sharing. The dance of our tapestry together had begun. I showed them the tapestry I was working on….a slowly evolving story…and now, as I showed them with a yarn selected in the moment, my story began to invite them to participate. One woman, loved art and had been a quilting artist, another woman shared how her mother had made braided rag rugs. “Oh!” another woman said, “My grandmother made rag rugs. I loved those!” Each one in the circle shared something of their joys. I asked if anyone would like to try weaving on the table loom. There was reticence. One volunteered…. And now there were 10 women around the loom. Some helping pull the thread, others working the treadles, others were giving advice, and some holding back, just watching. Others simply stayed in their chairs and when encouraged to join, preferred to stay where they were seated. Their presence in the room did not escape appreciation from me or my friend, who is the art therapist at the facility. One woman, who usually stays on the periphery, asked shyly, “May I try?” She chose a rag strip and began weaving. At one point, she decided that she was finished, but was very clear that she wanted to leave the end hanging and not weave it into the piece. She, too, had an artistic vision. Later, that piece was wrapped gently with copper wire and gemstone beads, a necklace looped over the finished weaving.
The relationship of artist and workshop participants is very organic. It grows naturally, we accept each other, are open to each other, and the bouquet of trust slowly releases and fills the room. It is not something we have an expectation for, or look for, or even when it wafts through the room, it is not something we long to hold and keep. It simply is or isn’t and it is okay. We have an attunement that will carry over into my next visits.
In the upcoming weeks, I will give you a glimpse of a private lesson with one resident and the creation of several more weavings that the class has been creating. We are responding to an upcoming dance performance and a local art exhibition that was created in conjunction with the dance. Our own art will be exhibited at the home of the dance company at the end of November. These weavings are not static representations or simply a physical process to articulate the movement of the body. There is purpose to what we do, and the love of our hearts is a perfumed petal that opens one by one. We are all nurtured we are all expressing our present moment into wholeness.
Aneesha Parrone is a Featured Author of Art Therapy. You can learn more about Aneesha at her website http://www.arpanaaneeshastudio.com/.