Tapioca & Girdle Straps: A Journey Begins at 90 Years Old

Eleanor’s mandala and poem

Eleanor’s mandala and poem

This is a celebration of an artist, creative self-expression, freedom & throwing out the rules!

I have had the honor of creating with seniors for almost 20 years.  Even now, I find myself amazed and inspired by the power art.

Eleanor was a 92 year old client of mine and she is legally blind.  Eleanor is highly educated, extremely opinionated, and was used to doing woodwork and handcrafts in her earlier years.  Creating visual art was a new venture, but she enjoyed other channels of expression such as poetry, music and drumming.

In the beginning, Eleanor was eager to explore the various art mediums and projects that I would introduce (although, she did ask me on more than a few occasions if I was crazy).  Since she has limited vision, she literally works with her face just a few inches from the table.  We have created systems together to help her “see” and feel her space.

She would often get discouraged and I can recall the day she literally threw a paintbrush full of bubblegum pink paint across the studio nearly hitting me in the leg.  She was “frustrated as hell” and she wanted to make it known that she was QUITTING!  “I can’t do this!” She blurted out.

There it was.  The beginning of a journey right then and there, at nearly 90 years old.

Eleanor’s Mixed Media Collage

Evolving:  Eleanor’s Mixed Media Collage: Milkweed pod, Tapioca, birch bark, plants, fabric, burlap and watercolor

I acknowledged her frustration and empathized with her.  No, things were not the same as they once were, and these challenges were not going away.  Her life was different, and she wasn’t happy about it.  The numerous changes seniors face and the feelings that accompany them, surely cannot be easily explained or expressed.

We developed a relationship over the years and would openly talk about her life, marriage, losses, kids, career, cats, her love of nature and conservation…Things that truly MATTERED to her.  I also learned that her mother was her opposite…Very formal, “a woman from the Victorian era”.  She explained how early on she was criticized from an art teacher back in grade school.  She recounted in detail how she was told she “didn’t mix her colors properly”.  Stories like this is are not uncommon.  I have heard numerous experiences similar to Eleanor’s.  Maybe even your own inner artist has been squelched at some point by someone or something.  People will often stop creating when they feel they are doing it “wrong” or are in “no way an artist” and may consider it to be “like kindergarten” because after all, that’s when they quit making art.  Why even try it if it’s going “to look bad”?  Here’s the answer…

The art and the creative process grew to reflect deep meaning for Eleanor.  Art became her way to reject those “rules” which no longer exist.  I would give her complete freedom, control and encouraged her to use anything and everything she wanted in her work.  We laughed when she explained how her creative ideas tend to come to her at 3 a.m. (something I can relate to!)  As time went on, she would come down to the studio and excitedly open her walker and reveal some odd fun thing she collected somewhere to use in her artwork.  I would also find objects from nature or in my travels and bring them to her knowing that she would see the item in a unique new light.

Eleanor’s pen and paint response to a dying friend which she gave to her as a gift.

Eleanor’s pen and paint response to a dying friend which she gave to her as a gift.

She was free! She knew that whatever she created was hers. There was no right, no wrong and no judgement.  It no longer mattered if others approvedEleanor was truly seeing once again!  She used all kinds of things for her art, nothing was off limits…Paper scraps, tapioca, coffee beans, bottle caps, old paper towels, and some old girdle straps she had laying around and on and on.  She thought out every detail of what she was working on.  These materials and the process took on such significance to her, and she was having a ball!  What an honor and pleasure to witness her growth!

She was able to express her memories, feelings of loss, grief, her love of nature, create visual metaphors and to explore creatively for no other reason than to be her true self.  Working as a team, she would often use my hands and eyes as needed, directing me to her very detailed instructions or written words that she wanted conveyed.  She very often explained how art has become such a vital part of her life.  It’s not that frustration has completely left her, it’s her new vision and choice to not give up or step away if she so chooses.  No one will ever tell her again how her art should be.  It’s all hers and what bliss that is to discover!

Every story matters.  Everything we create from within has meaning and purposeOur creative paths can continue throughout our lives if we are open to the journey.

So perhaps if we all look just a little closer, we too may see beauty in tapioca and girdle straps & Live our Own Inspired Life!

Peace, Love & Creative moments,








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