Age does not slow down art
Published: Wednesday, February 2, 2011
On the first day of this semester at the community college where I teach writing, I asked my students to write an essay about something in their lives that they have a passion for. Their essays varied from their hobbies and interests to their favorite sports activity and what they see as their life's work. I was attracted to the diversity of topics and how expressive their essays were. I could hear their voices and I had just met them. Yet, this shouldn't surprise me for that is what happens when someone has a passion for something. It pulls them toward it and engages them.
My posing this question to my students may have been influenced by my watching a documentary the day before at the Silvermine Guild Arts Center. The film is a new documentary produced by Martin West of Westport and narrated by actor Keir
Dullea. The film is titled "Years in the Making: A Journey into Late Life Creativity." Literally, the film has been years in the making by its filmmaker and others involved in producing and raising funds for the film. Now that it is completed, it is a treasure to behold.
The documentary focuses on working artists, all between the ages of 70 and 95, who live in Westport and Weston. As with the Silvermine area, these two towns have enjoyed a rich history of artists living in the community. These artists talked about how their art work is very much part of their lives and that their aging has not slowed their passion or their ability. Age does not slow down their art, but fuels it. For as one artist noted, life experiences contribute to an artist's passion. And as another artist noted, it is only her body that is aging. Her mind is still alert and thanks to her spirit she continues to produce art. Nothing gets in the way of their art, whether it be sculpture or painting. As artist Tracy
Sugerman, 85, noted, "There's an agelessness to art."
In fact, many see the benefits of aging, not only in the life experiences that they bring to their art work, but also in the manner in which they feel the freedom to express their talents as they see fit. Of course, they all are aware of the passing of time and the limiting time that they have. Time may just be the contributing factor to the passion that keeps them returning to their studios most days.
During the film some of the artists talked about how they had come to their profession as an artist. Some were influenced by parents who took them to museums. Others credit the freedom of expression they enjoyed. Others were influenced by life experiences. Sugarman talks about the sketches he did while in combat in World War II. Others talked about living with life-threatening illness and the impact that has had on their art work. Others were inspired by parents and friends.
But ultimately, where does their art come from?
It comes from within, noted one artist. It comes from one's own sensibilities. It comes from trying to make sense out of a life one lives. Above all, it comes from the passion that one holds and that passion has to be there if one wants to be a true artist. "It's who you are," says one artist.
Silvermine Guild artist Ann Chernow, who has worked closely with West in making the film, said the day after her husband Bert Chernow died suddenly in 1997, she went into her studio and produced the best painting she has ever done.
In the documentary, we get a peak into some of the artists' accomplishments and experiences lived thanks to their art. Bernie Fuchs recalled the time he was invited to do a painting of President John Kennedy and waited in an outer room from the Oval Office at the White House while -- he learned later - the President was discussing the Cuban Missile Crisis. Barbara Lawless talks about the mural she painted in the governor's mansion.
Sculptor Stanley Bleifeld was selected from hundreds of American sculptors to create a national monument for the U. S. Navy in Washington, D.C. His larger than life sculpture, "Lone Sailor," sits on a site near the Capitol.
One characteristic these artists have in common is that they never stop growing in their ability to produce art. Photographer Ruth Bernhard, who died at age 101 in 2008 once noted, "I shall die young, at whatever age the experience occurs."
Rita Papazian is a freelance writer who has covered Norwalk extensively. She can be reached at