Art program unlocks creative minds of dementia patients

ST. GEORGE — The fruits of a therapeutic program involving the artwork of dementia and Alzheimer’s patients are on display through mid-April for public viewing at the Red Cliffs Gallery in St. George.

Southern Utah Art Guild president Michael Foot points out artwork at Red Cliffs Art Gallery’s “Spring Forward” art show, featuring artwork from dementia patients, St. George, Utah, Mar. 4, 2017 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

Memory Matters, a nonprofit organization supporting seniors with dementia illnesses and their caregivers, runs a weekly “Fun Art” program at assisted living facilities throughout Washington County. The program is directed by Harold Tanner with the assistance of volunteers helping as many as 75 patients through the medium of art.

See video in the media player top of this report.

“In research they have found that Alzheimer’s does not affect the creative brain cells,” Tanner said.

Patients dive into the artwork seemingly unhindered by their cognitive impairment.

“If they do anything creative at all – dance, music, art, anything – they feel better because they’re accomplishing something,” Tanner said. “Their attitudes change, and I’ve seen that happen every week.”

Tanner noted that patients often fall into deep bouts of depression, irritability and anxiety due to frustration with the profound effects of memory loss.

“They have such a depressed lifestyle because they can’t accomplish what they’ve done all their life,” Tanner said, “and all of the sudden they’re doing something and they can see the results, and it is awesome.”

Artwork is displayed at Red Cliffs Art Gallery’s “Spring Forward” art show, featuring artwork from dementia patients, St. George, Utah, Mar. 4, 2017 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

The turnaround after a Fun Art session is remarkable, he said, explaining how one patient who is otherwise ill-tempered is able to speak with family coherently after participating in the art program.

One woman who Tanner said is constantly anxious and down on herself finally showed positive emotion when she saw her artwork to completion.

“It just lifts them, and pretty soon they’re laughing and teasing, and they’re talking,” Tanner said. “It changes the whole day.”

The program runs entirely on the work of volunteers and donations to Memory Matters for the art supplies.

All of the paintings on the Fun Art display are available for purchase for between $50 and $150 with the proceeds going to Memory Matters to fund future programs.

The paintings are all personalized with a bio next to each piece describing how each patient was positively affected by the program.

One patient, John Macumber, said he felt a connection to his father through his art.

Artwork is displayed at Red Cliffs Art Gallery’s “Spring Forward” art show, featuring artwork from dementia patients, St. George, Utah, Mar. 4, 2017 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

“When we were cleaning out my father’s home we came across a framed pastel painting that he did in high school,” Macumber said. “It was beautiful. Father’s life got busy with work and he never painted again. I have never painted, but now I get to and it makes me think of my dad.”

While none of the patients are trained artists, Tanner said, their ability to put paint to canvas in a meaningful way brings a sense of control to their lives.

“It’s therapeutic for me,” Tanner said. “If I get depressed, it isn’t very long and I just go to one of the units, walk in there and work with these people and it’s the most wonderful volunteer work I’ve ever done in my whole life.”

The display is part of Red Cliffs Gallery’s greater “Spring Forward” art show featuring approximately 100 works of art from nearly 40 Southern Utah artists. It showcases many forms of art, including painting, mixed media, photography, pottery and sculpture.

“We really enjoy the opportunity to bring their work in with our work. We want to support the arts across from the youth to the elderly,” Michael Foot, president of the Southern Utah Art Guild, said.

Event details

  • What: Southern Utah Art Guild’s “Spring Forward” art show.
  • When: Friday, March 3, to Saturday, April 15, Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Where: Red Cliffs Gallery in the St. George City Commons building, 220 N. 200 East, St. George.
  • Cost: Free. All artwork is for sale.

Resources

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.

Email: jwitham@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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