Monday, July 1, 2013

Mayer touches lives with art by Leah Hoenen

When Nancy Meyer arrives at a senior center, she unpacks watercolor paints, brushes and paper. Eager hands await the materials, ready to get to work adding color and personal flair to the watercolor paper.

Meyer has been visiting Southern Maine retirement and senior centers for more than 10 years, holding watercolor painting sessions using materials she’s designed herself. Line drawings of plants and animals on watercolor paper enable people of all abilities to paint pictures they’re proud of, she said.

Activities directors have been so pleased with the results, Meyer has launched a new business called Dandi-Lines, and now offers packaged painting projects for senior citizens for sale online.

Teaching and facilitating watercolor painting with seniors has had a great effect on Meyer, a New York native who now calls Baldwin home. “It’s so rewarding. They’re so proud of it,” said Meyer. 

She focuses on nature in her watercolor sessions, bringing pieces of the natural world inside especially for those who are unable to go out-of-doors. It may be apple blossoms, flowers or pumpkins. These special still-life subjects are sure to bring smiles, said Meyer.

The people attending Meyer’s sessions range from the very independent to those stricken with Alzheimer’s. Many forego drawing in favor of painting Meyer’s printed designs. “I always say, ‘Personalize it,’” she said. “One lady put a bottle of beer in the sand,” said Meyer, laughing and sitting in the sun on one of the first warm days of the Maine summer.

In a bright dress, eyes behind stylish sunglasses, she becomes pensive and tells of another participant who has lost her memory, and set down her painting when visitors arrived. “She walked back in to where I had the paintings and picked up hers – she has no memories anymore, and couldn’t remember her visitors, but that picture mesmerized her,” said Meyer.

“I learn from them,” she said, of her students. Some smile, paint and have a great time. Others are slowed down by the details. Others come simply to watch her paint.

“It’s like a therapy to watch someone paint. Activities directors say it’s a very therapeutic session. It’s very calming,” she said. The sessions offer an opportunity for Meyer to make personal connections.
She’s met fellow wild-bird admirers in her classes. Others love plants. There are always stories to go around.

Meyer appreciates the pride her students take in their work, and she enjoys the variety in the finished products. Despite the fact that most people paint off the same pre-printed design, no two end products are alike, she said.

Traveling around southern Maine, Meyer teaches two classes a day on average, and is working on Dandi-Lines, which she opened in May along with her business partner. Some people are unable to draw, said Meyer, while others are fabulous artists and still want to use the pattern. The printed designs enable both to express themselves in color.

“I’ve made so many people happy with painting,” she said. Meyer is a self-taught artist who got her start in craft shows when she was 18 years old. Her paintings have hung in some of New York’s prestigious galleries – she later began teaching watercolors and her business spread by word-of-mouth.

Meyer said it is a privilege for her to be able to get to know the senior citizens she works with. “They give me so much more than I give them. They have such a soul,” she said.

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