Allison Agostinelli’s bee image inspired by resident Sunnie Gordon. Photo courtesy of June Sekiguchi
Allison Agostinelli’s bee image inspired by resident Sunnie Gordon. Photo courtesy of June Sekiguchi

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 very surprised.”

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 Thome had.

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 experiences.”

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