Saturday, August 8, 2015

Your Brain On ART / Staying Young

Plein Air Painting on her 91st birthday!
Everyone at the table was teary-eyed as Vada explained how she is  feeling that it might be time for her to stop joining us on our weekly paint-outings.
My dear friend Vada Hammen setting up to paint azaleas, in the Spring of 2014 - at only 90! Though her energy level is waning, not so her intellect. Each week for the past 7 years she has driven across the bridge from Lillian, AL, into Florida- a few miles, to meet me and ride along to our designated painting site with the Plein-air Painters of Pensacola. Without missing a beat!  

At the Beach with the girls.
In this age of brain-training games, I believe the artist has a head-start, a real advantage because we're always observing, comparing, studying, problem solving as we create. Each artwork poses a multitude of decisions as we arrange shapes, fine-tune colors, and consider what is important to us about this live vignette. 

 The back-story of Vada becoming an artist: As a busy mother of 7, she liked to draw. Her eldest son, Denny, noticed his mom's talent and had her painting designs on his moter-bike. His life was cut short at 21, tragically from a motorcycle accident. It was months later that Vada found out from the local art instructor that Denny had paid for her to take painting lessons. It brings chills to know what she endured. Battles fought and won in a mind that is now so vibrant and healthy.
  This painting by Vada Hammen was gifted to me, and I love it.

 We skipped out of the group one day last summer. Never got our paints out, but enjoyed a visit on my back porch while studying Richard Schmid's big awesome book "The Landscapes".

Not only does she stay active in our plein air group but she leads a portrait session on Thursdays. On this day, I was the model for her group. Behind me is her wall of work. She doesn't limit herself to one genre or medium, she is fluent in portraiture as well as still-life and landscape. She regularly participates in another life-drawing group that meets in Pensacola.  

 New pacemaker seems to be working good! She was ready to get back out there and paint camellias this winter. Picasso said, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." Conversely, as we age, the artist in us keeps our minds active, youthful, and open to explore the possibilities of a blank canvas and full palette.
A landscape of Vada's
At the reception for an exhibit of my work.

 Learning to use her iPhone camera!
Admittedly, this is an unscientific study of but one. If you like facts and figures, check out this article with data from a Mayo Clinic study on how creative activities benefit your brain. I like this- "Long ago, 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away'. Perhaps today, the expression should expand to include painting an apple, going to the store with a friend to buy an apple, and using an Apple product." NYU neurology professor Dr. James Galvin. 

Leaders in our ART community: Vada, Kay and Rhoda- cornerstones who've kept the group organized through the years. So many lanes our group has explored together. So much canvas covered... And we are not letting her stop now. See ya Friday!

Making a case for sketching rather than just snapping pictures which we are so in the habit of these days, John Ruskin poetically describes the appreciation for visual beauty that artists share. 
‘Let two persons go out for a walk; the one a good sketcher, the other having no taste of the kind. Let them go down a green lane. There will be a great difference in the scene as perceived by the two individuals. The one will see a lane and trees; he will perceive the trees to be green, though he will think nothing about it; he will see that the sun shines, and that it has a cheerful effect; and that’s all! But what will the sketcher see? His eye is accustomed to search into the cause of beauty, and penetrate the minutest parts of loveliness. He looks up, and observes how the showery and subdivided sunshine comes sprinkled down among the gleaming leaves overhead, till the air is filled with the emerald light. He will see here and there a bough emerging from the veil of leaves, he will see the jewel brightness of the emerald moss and the variegated and fantastic lichens, white and blue, purple and red, all mellowed and mingled into a single garment of beauty. Then come the cavernous trunks and the twisted roots that grasp with their snake-like coils at the steep bank, whose turfy slope is inlaid with flowers of a thousand dyes. Is not this worth seeing? Yet if you are not a sketcher you will pass along the green lane, and when you come home again, have nothing to say or to think about it, but that you went down such and such a lane.’


Janelle Goodwin said...

What an inspiring post! Thank you for introducing us to Vada. I've been feeling kind of blocked lately, so your words hit my inner core in a visceral way. How wonderful that you have this painting group. Perhaps I need to find my own.

Jill Berry said...

So wonderful to receive your comment this morning Janelle. It brought back our good ol' days of blogging when we shared more often. It's nice when we can be an inspiration to one another. This one has been a long time coming; I've been thinking about it for over a year. There is so much more I could have mentioned. She is always early wherever she goes. She always gets finished painting before me. Her love of reading books is insatiable. She has sold many paintings, and I only know of those from our galleries in common during the last several years. Groups are wonderful, "iron sharpens iron". If I am wavering, a call to Vada puts me on track, and I'm always glad we went.

Patty Poskin said...

What wonderful words you have spoken about my amazing mother! You hit the nail on the head when describing her!! She is the best artist I have ever seen and can do it all from oils, to pastels, water, pencils, everything! She has an eye and a talent for everything she sees. I could not be more proud to call her my mom! I pray everyday that I can be half the woman she is when I am 91!!! I love you mom!!!

Victor Errington said...

Hi Jill.
Thank you very much for your fantastic post. Vada is 90, gosh, i have only got to go another 4 years and i shale be 90. I only hope that i shale be painting at 90. There is hope for me yet. If valda can do it so can i, i hope. And that bit about Ruskin and what he said about two people walking in the woods is so true. Thank you Gill. All the best.

jeanne said...

So grateful for your post about mom. You two have been such dear friends since you met. I guess Weight Place is where I met you at the annual show. Mom is great and I thank you for your words of praise. Family can compliment but another artist, to an artist, is true praise and warms the heart. Guess I'll see you at Wright Place next week. THX again for the wonderful acknowledgement to our mom!

Jill Berry said...

So nice to hear from you two - Patty and Jeanne. I love your mama dearly, she's my very best painting buddy. She continually inspires. When we discuss going out each week and she says,"If you want to, I'll go along", that motives me to get some paint on the palette and keep at it. Sorry to miss this year's annual show reception, I was flying home from Phoenix/Scottsdale where I attended the American Impressionist Society annual show. I got to meet Charlotte Dickinson, the AIS Founder, also a Floridian. She was amazed and encouraged to paint on, when I shared about Vada.

Anonymous said...

She is such an amazing woman. she is my e's grandmother and she has always treated me like family. She never forgets my daughter and now my daughter just received 3 new paints for her soon to be great-great grandson. What a wonderful amazingly talented person with a big heart.