This story was originally published in the Chicago Tribune Prime Time senior living section.
Ever thought about retiring to an artist colony? Do you dream of spending your golden years creating, learning and exhibiting with other artists?
This lifestyle is no dream, it is available right now at two senior living communities in downtown Chicago and Evanston: The Admiral at the Lake, and The Mather. These communities are so chock full of art and artists, you would think they were transplanted from Soho or Paris.
Residents enjoy on-site art gallery spaces with exhibits of resident and non-resident art (complete with wine and cheese art receptions), art studios, art classes, art therapy, and art museum trips. Even non-artistic residents who are art collectors open up their apartments for art tours. Some donate or loan their art to the community, such as a stunning, handmade tapestry on display at The Mather that was given to a resident by the Dalai Lama.
Katherine Brooks, manager of repriorment (the company’s word for retirement) at The Mather, estimates about half of its 320 residents are involved in the arts in some way.
“We have residents who paint, make jewelry, work in clay, sculpt, photograph, do beading, make collages, and more,” she says. “One resident’s jewelry is sold in art museums across the country.”
Art for all
Retirement is the perfect time to let your artistic side flourish, says Brooks, because “80 is the new 60.”
Some residents are accomplished artists who find themselves with the time and attention to pursue their remarkable talents. Others are first-time creators, who perhaps have been curious about trying art for years.
“People are less inhibited as they get older. They say, ‘Well, I’m 80 years old, what do I have to lose? I might as well try,’” Brooks says.
Mary Deppe, 88, of The Mather, studied art in college and went to work after graduation as a commercial illustrator in 1950. She drew shoes for a shoe company in St. Louis. But she soon married and moved away, so her artistic life remained dormant while raising her children and helping her husband with his advertising agency.
When they retired, she found a box of pastels someone had given her and the spark was reignited. She joined a weekly outdoor painting and drawing group, then the South Florida Pastel Association. (Deppe and her husband spend the winters in Naples, Florida)
When the Deppes moved to The Mather in 2013, she joined the art committee, and is now its co-chair, planning exhibits for The Mather’s three galleries.
“We try to find a person who has a body of work, and we rotate them every two months,” she says. “Many people have their artwork with them, maybe under the bed in a box.”
Once a year there is an art gala in the fall. “We shop around and try to find residents who want to put one piece of work in. We usually have 40 or 50 pieces,” she says.
Deppe has shown her still lifes at The Mather. “I had never had a show of my own before,” she says. It emboldened her to try jewelry making and portraiture.
Now she volunteers on the memory care and assisted living floors of The Mather drawing pastel and chalk portraits of residents. “I seem to have an ability to get a little bit of a likeness,” she says modestly. “I’m taking a portrait workshop in the fall.”
Showing the work
Another community gaining a reputation as an art center is The Admiral at The Lake, newly rebuilt from the ground up and relaunched in 2012. Its art committee is run by resident Jan Petry. She has been recognized in the Chicago art community for her work at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art.
A wood sculptor herself, and a former advertising creative director, Petry has found her niche at The Admiral encouraging other artists and would-be artists. She also does what she knows: arranges art exhibits.
Petry says gallery exhibits at The Admiral rotate out every two months now instead of three because there is so much interest and so much art.
Shows alternate between resident art and nonresident art. “We have had well known Chicago artists like painter Mike Noland and David Lee Csicsko, who is known for his stained glass and mosaic artwork in Chicago, and his Christmas decorations at the White House in 2012. They came and did talks. Some artists sold pieces residents bought for their apartments. One group went in together for a piece of art for their hallway on their floor.”
Petry says the artsy culture at The Admiral is attractive to potential residents and their families. “It is definitely a part of living at The Admiral,” she says.
Petry has not shown her work there because the exhibit space is not well suited to sculpture, but she says changes might be in the works to show more types of art.
“There are at least 12 to 15 people actively involved in creating visual art here,” she says. “Our goal is to get more and more people involved. What’s been fun is to see people who have never painted before start participating.”
Deppe says she and her fellow residents are always on the lookout to broaden their circle, as well. “We are always looking when new residents come in whether The Mather has welcomed a new artist into our company.”