Much like the senior residents at
Aljoya Thornton Place (450 N.E. 100th St.), the art that decorates the wall in
the current exhibit, “Visual Biographies,” is diverse and unique.
The co-curators of the collaborative art project, Kelly Lyles
and June Sekiguchi, paired artists with residents, giving them the opportunity
to get to know each other and exchange stories. The artists then created
multimedia art inspired by their interviews with the seniors.
Each of the pieces has a text panel giving insight into the
art and the story of the resident it is inspired by. The project was created to
honor the residents and engage them in the art-making process.
Residents Teiko Shimazaki, 91, and her husband, Leon
Applebaum, 92, artists in their own right, participated in the project. Some of
their own art pieces are also on display at Aljoya Thornton Place.
“This man, I didn’t know him,” Shimazaki said about artist
Mark O’Connell, who made the painting of her. “He is a very good artist. I was
Learning about their histories
Artist Kathy Liao also had never met the resident she was
paired up with before starting the project. When she began, all she knew was
her name: Diane Thome.
“Now, this is a person I know and that I think is really
important,” said Liao, whose art is often inspired from her own life’s history.
“I think it’s a wonderful project.”
Liao started by meeting with Thome to get to know her. Then
she did some sketches and painted the piece. She learned through her interview
that Thome was a professor and one of the first women to get a doctorate degree
in music composition at Yale University.
“I very much enjoyed learning about her history and about how
it made her who she is today,” Liao said, adding that she admired the courage
Liao noticed, when conducting the interview at Thome’s
apartment, she was well-traveled and learned about the importance of her smile
and how it got her to keep going. The smile found its way into the art, as well
as the influence of pastels (as there were several drawings of Thome done by
her friends with pastels).
“It’s always interesting to see what they kind of latch onto
and what they learn from the resident,” said Sekiguchi, who curated a similar
exhibit at Aljoya on Mercer Island.
Another piece, created by Allison Agostinelli, used bees to
illustrate resident Sunnie Gordon’s personality.
“I love the creativity of the artists in using different
media to accomplish their mission,” Gordon said, adding that the piece had
wonderful texture. “It brightens up a room — perfect for Seattle weather.”
“It was really nice to see what other artists had done with
their pieces,” agreed artist Don Haggerty. “None of us had a clue of what the
other was doing. It was a pretty cool experience.”
‘Still having adventures’
Very different than the type of work he normally does,
Haggerty found the project to be both his biggest challenge and biggest reward.
His piece represents the lives of residents Dick and Marilyn Fike.
“I didn’t have a clue of what on earth this piece of art I
was to create would look like,” Haggerty said.
Through his interview with the couple, Haggerty looked for
what he could use in the art. Much of the art represents the time the couple
spent together at their cabin on Lopez Island and the numbers associated with
their life together. The walls of their small dining area were covered with
memorable photographs, including of their cabin, airplane and their first date
together when Dick was 10, Haggerty noted.
“Any experience like this throws a wonderful light on people
as people, regardless of their physical or mental condition,” he said. “Inside,
they’re still flying airplanes; they’re still having adventures that have made
all of these wonderful experiences in their lives. They’re still very much the
people that they always were.”
Sekiguchi added, “The whole community benefits from these art
The exhibit opened on Dec. 12 and will continue through
March 25 at Aljoya Thornton Place. The exhibit is free and open to the public.
There will be an open discussion of the artwork with some
of the artists and residents, on Jan. 29 at 7 p.m.
JESSICA DAVIS is a Seattle-based arts writer. To comment
on this story, write to CityLivingEditor@nwlink.com.