Creative Aging at Wells Memorial Library

Participants arrive for a Creative Aging drawing class at Wells Memorial Library in upstate New York.

Wells Memorial Library is a small, rural library in the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York. This region has a long history of attracting artists, and the library has an ongoing display of local artwork. Exhibits change every two months and are greatly appreciated, with artist receptions well attended. Because of this community interest in the arts, and with no other comparable opportunities in the area for arts programming for older adults, we applied for the Creative Aging in New York State Libraries project.

On an autumn morning in the Adirondacks, participants gathered for the third session of a Creative Aging drawing class, chatting and surveying a large drawing hanging in nonfiction. Teaching artist Grace Potthast assembled the class. “Everyone have a drawing board? Paper is over by the supplies, and the cutting board is on the children’s table.” The art students collected their supplies, and Grace gave instructions for a two-minute, timed drawing of the seashells placed on tables around the library. “Keep your pencil on the paper, don’t look at your drawing. It’s not about the drawing. This is to bring your right brain to the forefront.” She mentioned Leonardo da Vinci’s advice that you should look closely at the undulations of line when you’re drawing an object to make it look real. She spoke about line, shape, and proportion, and people focused on the seashells in front of them for two minutes of drawing.

For the main lesson, Grace drew everyone’s attention to the Albrecht Dürer drawing of a rhinoceros that was hung upside down. “By seeing the drawing upside down, we purposely avoid naming what we see. Not naming what you’re looking at and what you’re drawing will help engage your right brain. It’s the key to unengage your analytical mind. The world will open up for you as far as drawing goes.” She gave instructions for drawing the upside down Dürer rhinoceros and did a demonstration drawing. The class looked back and forth from the drawing appearing on Grace’s paper to Dürer’s “undulations of line” as she described how to capture angles and proportion.

“Check proportions, fill in contour, lay down dark and light lines, focus on negative space. Spend as long as you want. You are developing your eye and sense of drawing. Everything is good.” The room became quiet as eyes went back and forth from drawing boards to upside-down rhinoceros, and right brains engaged. Sunlight streamed into the room as artists concentrated on their drawings. Grace quietly gave individual pointers to clarify instructions and offer tips.

For some, the Observational Drawing class is a new experience. For others, it’s a chance to return to an activity they enjoy and a welcome opportunity to meet others with a similar interest. All are extremely appreciative that the library is offering this ten-week class with a professional artist who is engaging and enthusiastic, and with all supplies provided by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services. A few participant comments sum up general feelings about the Creative Aging program: “It’s fun. You find out you can do things, when somebody says that’s okay.” And, “Oh, no, it’s twelve o’clock already!” In January and February, the library will exhibit drawings from the Observational Drawing class, with an Artist Reception on January 6, 2013, to celebrate the participants and their work.

Editor’s Note: Wells Library is a member of the Clinton Essex Franklin Library System, the rural partner (and one of the four New York State systems participating) in Creative Aging in New York State Libraries: A Regional Model with National Applicability, a project made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services and designed and administered by Lifetime Arts, Inc., in partnership with Westchester Library System and American Library Association’s Public Programs Office. The Clinton Essex Franklin system covers 4,000 square miles in the northeastern corner of New York state, as far north as the Canadian border, and serves three counties and 60,000 people.